Ajinkya Rahane’s 18th half-century anchored India’s revival to 203 for six on the opening day of the first Test against the West Indies at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Thursday.
Reduced to 25/3 by opening bowlers Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel after they were put in to bat, Rahane underlined his immense value to a star-studded team with a gritty top score of 81 that helped lift the tourists to a more competitive position by the end of a rain-interrupted day.
He received resolute support from opening batsman KL Rahul (44) in a fourth-wicket stand of 68 and then featured in an even more productive partnership with Hanuma Vihari (32), the pair putting on 82 for the fifth wicket.
Rahane’s was the last wicket to fall in a stop-start final session, playing on to Gabriel to end a near four-hour occupation of the crease in which he stroked ten of 163 deliveries that he faced for four.
After the effective burst from Roach and Gabriel with the new ball which threatened to demolish the entire Indian top-order batting, Rahul found the redoubtable Rahane to be just the right partner in the effort to blunt the early threat of the home side’s pace attack in helpful conditions.
It took the off-spin of Roston Chase to separate them halfway through the afternoon session when Rahul, on 44, got a faint touch to an innocuous leg-side delivery for wicketkeeper Shai Hope to take a neat catch.
It was Hope’s third of four catches in the innings so far in a role he would not have expected overnight as a lingering ankle injury to regular wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich ruled the first-choice gloveman out of the match.
Roach, who ended the day with figures of 3/34 off 17 overs, seized the initiative for the West Indies at the start of play when he dismissed Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara in the fifth over while Gabriel accounted for the prized wicket of captain Virat Kohli (9).
On a surface freshened by early morning rain and offering encouragement to the new ball bowlers, Roach induced edges from both Agarwal and Pujara for catches by Hope.
While Gabriel lacked Roach’s persistent accuracy, his extra pace continued to challenge India’s top order and brought him the reward of Kohli’s wicket when the champion batsman attempted to guide a lifting delivery through backward-point only for debutant Shamarh Brooks to take a tumbling catch at gully.
In adding the important wicket of Rahane before the end of the day, Gabriel’s figures for the day showed two wickets for 49 runs off 15 overs.
Brooks, a 30-year-old middle-order batsman and occasional leg-spinner, filled the vacancy in the 11 left by Dowrich’s unavailability. West Indies were also required to draft in an additional replacement when all-rounder Keemo Paul was ruled out on the eve of the match through injury and his place was taken by Miguel Cummins.
After dominating the preceding the T20 and One-Day International series, India are seeking to extend their winning streak in the Caribbean with a team featuring three fast bowlers and one specialist spinner, Ravindra Jadeja getting the job ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin.
That decision to omit Ashwin was described as “astonishing” by former Indian captain and outstanding opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar, who is involved in television coverage of the tour. This Test also marks the start of the World Test Championship for both teams.