Rohit Sharma’s steely resolve, alongside useful contributions from KL Rahul (46) and Cheteshwar Pujara (61) helped India win a crucial day in the outcome of the third Test at The Oval. However, England hit back towards the end of the day’s play. In their last throw of dice - the second new ball - Ollie Robinson removed both Rohit and Pujara to keep the hosts in the game.
By that time, the two batsmen had added 153 runs for the second wicket. Rohit’s ton - the eighth of his career and his first outside India - was the highlight of the day. Despite, overcast conditions, Rohit played a near chanceless knock that spanned 255 deliveries until his dismissal. Playing within himself, he offered only half a chance in the early hours of the day when the ball aided bowlers the most. On a genuine outside edge, Rory Burns dived to his right in the slip cordon but failed to hold on to the catch. It was the chance he offered to Rohit, after taking evasive action on an easier opportunity to send Rohit packing towards the end of Day 2.
India lost only KL Rahul’s wicket in the morning session when James Anderson induced the faintest of outside edges. The on-field umpire adjudged Rahul not out but the UltraEdge on Joe Root’s call for the DRS identified a spike off Rahul’s bat. The 29-year old walked off showing a little dissent but departed for a well-made 46.
Rohit, having seen through the tough phase, became nearly impregnable with his defence. Keen to bat big, Rohit appeared extra conscious at times, scoring only 19 runs between lunch and the drinks break in the second session. He reached his half-century in 145 balls, making it the slowest fifty of his Test career to date. But the run-rate did not suffer. Pujara, batting with a fresh approach, was the aggressor in the budding stages of the partnership.
Pujara’s first boundary was a extravagant drive past mid-off. Ferocious on the cut shot, he has not had much of those short-and-wide deliveries this year. Today, he was presented with a few of them and he chased on everytime to open his arms. An upper cut over the slip cordon and a pristine late cut through third-man were highlights of his innings.
“I thought we were very disciplined and stuck to task all day. But one thing that surprised us was the lack of swing from the duke ball," said England’s assistant coach Paul Collingwood at the end of the day’s play.
With England on the back foot and conditions flattening out to bat, Rohit reaped rewards for his patience. He accrued 37 runs in this phase and reached a significant ton with a six over long-on - an imperious shot to become the first-ever opener to amass tons across all formats on the English soil. India went to tea without losing a wicket in the session that also brought them 91 runs. Pujara completed his half-century post-tea as England eyed the second new ball as the only likely source to break the partnership.
The new ball worked as soon as it was taken, although without any swing or seam. Ollie Robinson, having the first crack with the new cherry, got a short ball to grip on the track, forcing Rohit into a mistimed pull shot. Chris Woakes, at fine-leg, did the rest to end Rohit’s knock of 127 from 256 balls.
At the end of the same over, Robinson got one to seam in sharply toward Pujara off a good length. Trying to tuck it into the on-side, Pujara edged the ball onto his back-leg, ultimately lobbing it up for an easy catch in the slip cordon. Umpire Richard Illingworth turned down the appeal but the DRS replays showed a clear inside edge, thus dealing India a second blow in the first over with the new ball.
Ravindra Jadeja joined Virat Kohli in the middle, walking out at five. The two added 33 runs in the 11 overs of play that happened post Pujara’s dismissal. Kohli showed judicious approach, with cautious leaves in the corridor of uncertainty against Anderson as well as a couple of cover drives for four in his unbeaten 22 off 37 balls. The day was shortened by 45 minutes due to bad light.
Ending the day at 270 for three, India lead by 171 runs. The pitch has taken the trademark Oval texture where the lateral movement is minimal and spinners are becoming more effective. Having said that, the morning session has remained perplexing for the batsmen, presenting England with a chance to make a comeback, probably their last attempt with the ball.