AHMEDABAD: Rishabh Pant launched a spectacular late assault in his flamboyant 101 to put India in charge of the fourth and final Test against England on Friday.
Ben Stokes led England’s lion-hearted bowling effort in the first two sessions but the 23-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman bludgeoned his way to a third Test century, scoring 101 off 118 balls and sharing a potentially match-winning stand of 113 for the seventh wicket with Washington Sundar to help India reach 294-7 at stumps, a first-innings lead of 89 runs.
Some powerful hitting in the last session, particularly from Pant, pushed the home team closer to the win or draw they need to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in June.
Sundar was batting on 60 at stumps and Axar Patel was on 11 with India 89 ahead after being 121-5 at one stage.
“We were on the back foot after losing those wickets but the partnership between Pant and Washington was very important,” India opener Rohit Sharma said. “It got us to where we wanted, put us in the driver’s seat. Right now we have 90-odd lead, which is fantastic. I just hope Axar and Washington can carry the same intent tomorrow as well and put us in a good position.”
Having posted a below-par 205, England could not afford to let India get off to a flying start and their bowlers responded brilliantly after the hosts resumed the day on 24-1.
Anderson bowled a tight line while Stokes, who battled an upset stomach on Thursday and still top-scored with 55, was relentlessly hostile.
Left-arm spinner Jack Leach earned the breakthrough trapping the obdurate Cheteshwar Pujara lbw for 17.
Stokes bent his back to generate awkward bounce and one such delivery fetched him the prize wicket of Virat Kohli. The India captain could merely nick the rising delivery behind to be dismissed for an eight-ball duck.
Rohit, who made 49, was smacked on his helmet by another such delivery from Stokes. The all-rounder returned after the lunch break to deny Rohit his fifty and Leach sent back Ravichandran Ashwin to peg back India.
Pant began cautiously but accelerated spectacularly, especially after England took the second new ball.
The left-hander nonchalantly reverse-swept Anderson to race into the 90s and slog-swept Joe Root for a six. The England duo combined to end his swashbuckling innings as he swatted an Anderson delivery to Root at short mid-wicket.
Pant’s blitz was studded with 13 boundaries and two sixes.
“I like to play the situation and I just see the ball and react — that’s the unique selling point of my game,” said Pant. “The team plan was to get to 206, pass the England total and then get as many runs as possible.”
Sundar hit eight boundaries against a tired-looking England attack.
“They exhausted everything they had out there,” England spin-bowling coach Jeetan Patel said. “We were in a position to get ahead of the game, but it didn’t pan out that way. If India have to chase anything above 100 on a wearing wicket, that could be interesting,” added the former New Zealand spinner.
ENGLAND (1st innings) 205 (B. Stokes 55; A. Patel 4-68)
INDIA (1st innings; overnight 24-1)
S. Gill lbw b Anderson 0
R. Sharma lbw b Stokes 49
C. Pujara lbw b Leach 17
V. Kohli c Foakes b Stokes 0
A. Rahane c Stokes b Anderson 27
R. Pant c Root b Anderson 101
R. Ashwin c Pope b Leach 13
W. Sundar not out 60
A. Patel not out 11
EXTRAS (B-8, LB-5, NB-3) 16
TOTAL (for seven wkts, 94 overs) 294
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0, 2-40, 3-41, 4-80, 5-121, 6-146, 7-259.
TO BAT: I. Sharma, M. Siraj.
BOWLING: Anderson 20-11-40-3, Stokes 22-6-73-2 (nb1), Leach 23-5-66-2 (nb1), Bess 15-1-56-0 (nb1), Root 14-1-46-0.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021