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Rohit’s debut century lights up Eden

Ashwin contributes unbeaten 92 as India end second day on 354/6, leading by 120 runs
The two batsmen crossed each other, headed in different directions – one toward the unwelcome sanctuary, for want of a better phrase, of the dressing room, the other into uncharted territory as the challenges of Test cricket beckoned. 

Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma didn’t even glance at one another, the former trudging back to the pavilion after being adjudged leg-before for 10, the latter striding out purposefully as the long wait for a Test appearance finally ended. To suggest, on the evidence of one innings, that the passing of the baton has been completed will be a little extreme, but there were enough suggestions at the Eden Gardens on Thursday (November 7) that India is on a good wicket so far as batting reserves are concerned. 

Celebrating his Test breakthrough with a most memorable century on debut, Rohit (127*) struck up a pleasing, entertaining association already worth 198 with R Ashwin (92*) to power India to 354 for 6, and a potentially match-turning lead of 120 in the first innings, by close on the second day of the first Test. 

The nerves must have been jangling when Rohit took guard. India, overnight 37 without loss in response to West Indies’ 234, had been strangled and choked by Shane Shillingford, having stuttered to 82 for 4 which soon became 83 for 5 when Virat Kohli became the offspinner’s fourth victim. West Indies, riding the crest of a positive wave, was all over India, the ball spitting like a cobra every time Shillingford delivered it with that slightly quirky action of his. 

The conditions, the game situation and the threat that Shillingford posed combined would have tested the character and resolve of even a veteran. The debutant, however, remained unfazed, responding to the challenge with a superb essay that hauled India out of the woods and put it on the road to ascendancy. 

Mohammed Shami had fired the first shot for India’s debutants on Wednesday with a four-wicket haul and Rohit went one better, making up for the disappointment triggered by Tendulkar’s failure with a sparkling effort that had class written all over it. Even in isolation, it was a splendid compilation, a masterclass in the art of innings-building, with singular attention to the merit of the ball and nothing else. Given the circumstances under which it was made, with his team firmly on the back foot, it was worth its weight in gold. 

Rohit found excellent allies in Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ashwin, the least troubled of all batsmen, Rohit included, as India steadily turned hunters. Shillingford had left them with seemingly nowhere to go, but Rohit, Ashwin and Dhoni first eased the stranglehold and then took command as West Indies was the one who was in the firing line towards the end. 

Rohit’s desperation for a Test cap has been increasingly obvious in the last few months, but once he made that awe-inspiring 209 against Australia in a One-Day International in Bangalore less than a week back, it was a given that the long wait would end at the Eden. Wednesday marked the realisation of a dream as Tendulkar handed him his Test cap; Thursday showcased his comfort at this level, emphatically erasing any lingering, unspoken doubts about his temperament. 

Ashwin has already established his credentials in Test cricket, both as penetrative bowler and handy batsman. He did his reputation as an allrounder in the making no harm whatsoever, handling the spinners and the pacemen with equal assurance. The bouncer on the two-paced track was dispatched without fuss, the whips through midwicket against the turn of the left-arm spinner Veeraswammy Permaul, had a touch of the VVS Laxman to them, and his driving through the covers was exemplary as he inexorably closed in on a second Test ton. 

All this, at a time when West Indies was within one wicket of running riot. Shillingford apart, West Indies didn’t really too have many resources to trouble the batsmen, but Shillingford alone was proving to be more than a handful in the morning when India’s batsmen found exotic ways of courting disaster. 

Shikhar Dhawan, the last Indian centurion on Test debut before Rohit, played loosely and distantly outside off to drag the ball on to leg stump and M Vijay aimlessly jumped down the track, only to be outfoxed by the straighter one that set up a simple stumping for Denesh Ramdin. Tendulkar walked out to a standing ovation from an admittedly disappointingly sparse crowd, played two wonderful flick-drives in three deliveries and seemed to have played himself in alongside Cheteshwar Pujara when disaster struck. 

Pujara presented the West Indian debutant Sheldon Cottrell, with his first wicket as he feathered an upper glide to the ‘keeper, and in the following over, dismay, anguish and silence descended upon Eden as Nigel Llong sent Tendulkar on his way. Completely foxed by the doosra which squared him up but struck him high on his right thigh and would have comfortably sailed over the stumps, Tendulkar was momentarily stunned, like the crowd, by Llong’s right index finger shooting heavenwards. His stay had lasted only 41 minutes and 24 deliveries, and hardly had the spectators come to terms with his loss than Kohli perished, caught bat-pad. 

India had surrendered 3 for 4 in 17 deliveries and looked in danger of keeling over when Dhoni joined Rohit in an innings-retrieving association. Another wicket then, and the tail was ripe for the taking, but Dhoni took charge effortlessly, launching a measured counter-attack that sent Darren Sammy scurrying for safety. Sammy could have had his counterpart had Ramdin not spilled a difficult chance with the batsman on 12 out of 102 for 5 shortly before lunch. Dhoni made the most of the reprieve, cruising to 42 when a change of ball and a loose shot owing to a momentary lapse in concentration gave Tino Best and West Indies an unexpected bonus.

Having terminated the stand of 73, West Indies might have believed the end was nigh, but Ashwin had other ideas while Rohit continued to bat like a dream, putting India well on top after another absorbing day’s cricket.

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