Rohit Sharma oozed class with an aesthetically pleasing 161 on a challenging track, helping India seize the initiative with a solid opening day score of 300 for 6 against England in the second cricket Test in Chennai on Saturday.

Ajinkya Rahane looked equally attractive during his knock of 67 off 149 balls and the two Mumbaikars added 162 runs for the fourth wicket, making it worth the effort for the 15,000 who flocked the Chepauk as Indian cricket welcomed its fans back in the stadium amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A score of 350 plus in the first innings will be equivalent to 550 plus on any other track and Rishabh Pant’s (33 batting) dangerous presence could also take India well beyond the magic figure on this track. At stumps, he had debutant Axar Patel (5) for company.

Rohit had scored six Test hundreds prior to this knock but he will be the first to admit that in terms of conditions on offer and the quality of attack he faced, the seventh one would be at the top of the list.

On a hot Saturday, Rohit did two things at one go.

Firstly, he put India in a commanding position on a track which was way more difficult for batting than he made it look with 18 fours and two sixes in his 231-ball knock.

Secondly, he answered his critics in style by scoring runs when it mattered the most. The team is aiming for a comeback after a crushing 227-run loss in the first Test.

Joe Root was marvellous with his sweep shot during the first Test but Rohit was simply magnificent with his execution on a much trickier track on which he caused plenty of problems for England spinner Moeen Ali (26-3-112-3).

The way Rohit put a big front-foot stride outside the off-stump to sweep deliveries off both Moeen and Jack Leach (26-2-78-2) was a great sight for the fans of the Indian opening batsman.

Rohit’s defence was spectacularly solid and offence as assured as a safe house.

Knowing fully well that the track would start crumbling with the passage of play, Rohit attacked at the first go, picking 80 runs in the first session, something that could play the biggest role in the final context of the game.

Watch highlights of Rohit Sharma’s innings below:

It started with a cover drive off Stuart Broad and then there was a pulled six over mid-wicket off Ben Stokes.

While skipper Virat Kohli (0) was done in by a classical off-spinner’s delivery from Moeen – flighted outside the off-stump and enticing him to go for a cover drive only to find his defence breached.

If Rohit played those sweeps in a regal manner, Rahane was no less classy in his drives – the front and back-foot punches off the pacers and those lovely cut shots off the spinners were delightful to watch.

Call it irony, Rahane chose a wrong delivery from Moeen for playing the sweep and was bowled in the process.

He hit nine boundaries in a half-century that came after a barren run of seven innings. This was after he survived an umpiring howler from Anil Chaudhary.

But then, he was destined to be in Rohit’s shadow on a day when determination became his primary capital.

“It is a difficult track where you don’t know whether to come forward or remain on the back-foot,” said Sunil Gavaskar.

Watch highlights of Ajinkya Rahane’s knock below

Leach was introduced in the ninth over and Rohit perhaps remembered his second innings dismissal in the opening Test.

He knew that Leach’s main weapon was extra bounce with a slight turn. He met Leach’s deliveries by putting the front leg across the off-stump.

This negated any chance of his off-stump getting exposed and he also couldn’t be adjudged leg before.

Root had got Moeen for this match in place of Dom Bess, primarily because of the prodigious turn that is expected to be on offer.

However, the senior spinner failed to have the impact that his captain expected. He failed to hit the right lengths, allowing Rohit Sharma to dominate.

The sweep shot was Rohit’s key weapon as he reached his three-figure mark with that shot but it also proved to be his downfall as he perished after top-edging a sweep shot.

England thought they had come right back into the game when they dismissed Rahane shortly after but Rishabh Pant kept the pressure on the visitors remaining unbeaten on 33 at the close of play.

The longer the wicketkeeper-batsman stays on on day two, the more difficult it will be for England to comeback into the match.

(With PTI inputs)