Joe Root won the toss on Thursday and had no hesitation in opting to bowl first. Virat Kohli said he would have done the same. One couldn’t really fault both the captains’ assessment at the start of the second Test between England and India. The conditions were overcast and Lord’s has traditionally favoured fast bowling.
It was the eighth time Kohli had lost the toss in as many Tests as captain in England. But by the end of the day, he must’ve been extremely pleased that the streak wasn’t broken. Thanks to Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul’s splendid batting, India conquered difficult conditions to finish the day at 276/3, and that put them well ahead in the contest.
As it happened: England vs India, day one of the second Test at Lord’s
James Anderson was doing James Anderson things from the first over, with Ollie Robinson, who bagged a five-for in the first Test at Trent Bridge, giving him good support with the new ball. But Rohit and Rahul had come to the crease with a determination of a different kind. India got to 14/0 at the end of 12 overs, without a boundary being hit, as the openers left the ball masterfully, defended close to their bodies, and buried their natural, aggressive instincts.
Rohit went to on score 83 off 145 and was dismissed in the 44th over, while Rahul remained unbeaten on 127 off 248 at the end of day’s play. They added 126 runs for the first wicket and showcased Test match batting of the highest calibre.
Let’s talk about Rohit’s knock first. He was not out in the second innings at Trent Bridge and before that, he had got 20-plus scores in seven straight innings but could manage to convert just one of them into a half-century. Ever since he was promoted to the opener’s slot in 2019, he has been getting starts consistently but he tends to succumb to impulsive bouts of aggression.
Rohit was dismissed for 36 in the first innings in Nottingham after hooking one straight to fine-leg. But he went on to say he had no regret going for the shot.
“You have to be ready to play your shots as well because their bowlers are so disciplined that you hardly get anything,” Rohit had said. “So when you get the balls which are your shots, in your area, you’ve got to put them away.”
And that right there was the key to Rohit’s knock on Thursday. He was entirely mindful of the threat the English bowlers possessed and showed high class defensive skills to keep them at bay. In fact, he scored just 13 runs off the first 50 balls he faced. But then came an over in which he hit Sam Curran for four boundaries, and the Indian innings kicked into gear from there on. And soon after came the first six of the match – a Rohit Sharma hook over fine-leg.
The 34-year-old waited for the balls to either be short, too full, or too straight. There were no release shots played. Also, it’s one thing knowing your scoring areas and it’s another thing executing those shots. The fact that Rohit hardly ever missed out on scoring opportunities is testament to his exceptional skills as a batsman.
One of the remarkable aspects about Rohit and Rahul’s opening stand was how they remained unperturbed by the happenings at the other end. They both started slowly but once Rohit started freeing up, Rahul didn’t feel the urge to do the same. And similarly, Rohit never seemed under pressure to keep the scoreboard ticking. They both played strictly on the merit of the ball and ended up building the perfect partnership for India.
Rahul was the form batsman for India heading into this match after getting an 84 in his first innings at Trent Bridge. And on Thursday, he further cemented his claim for a permanent spot at the top of the order. His century at Lord’s was a tactical and technical masterclass.
The 29-year-old was batting on 33 off 118 when Rohit was dismissed. During their partnership, not once did he seem tempted to keep pace with his opening partner. But once Anderson got England back in the game, Rahul switched gears seamlessly and ended up scoring 93 runs off the next 130 balls.
It isn’t easy playing second fiddle and it also isn’t easy to look for quick runs to relieve the pressure from your partner. But Rahul did both these things and he did make it look easy. When Pujara came to the crease, he upped his scoring rate immediately and got 15 runs off the next 15 balls. And when Kohli joined him, he added 25 off 30.
Just like he did in Nottingham, Rahul showed his full repertoire as a batsman. He had made a long, arduous journey by the time Rohit perished, but he reset thereafter and kept going from strength to strength. If the first half of his innings was an exhibition on how to leave and defend the red ball, the second was studded with some stunning strokeplay. The right-hander fancied the cover region and some of the front-foot drives he hit for four were out of the top drawer.
“It was probably the best I have seen KL bat,” said Rohit after the day’s play. “He was in control from start to finish, at no point did it look like he was confused or thinking too much. He was very clear with his plans and when you do that, it definitely works. Today was his day and he made it count.”
With the middle order batsmen struggling for runs in recent times, Rohit and Rahul’s form at the top of the order is a huge advantage for India. England is one of the toughest places to score runs in, more so for openers, and the determination and application shown by the duo is the need of the hour for the visitors.
Anderson and Co will surely continue to ask tough questions as the series progresses, but India seem to have found an opening pair that has the right answers.