One of the statistical curiosities of international cricket ended in spectacular fashion on Saturday afternoon when Rohit Sharma danced on the track like a Bollywood star and launched the in-flight delivery of Moeen Ali on the balcony of the Oval Pavilion.
This mighty six saw Sharma record her eighth century test, but most notably her first outside India. An opener who dominated international white ball formats for nearly 14 years, but found the red ball more difficult when playing abroad, had filled one of the remaining gaps in an otherwise stellar resume.
Sharma’s majestic 127 on 256 balls was the centerpiece of an India-dominated third matchday three and half of a 153-point second wicket alongside Cheteshwar Pujara (61 of 127). This may well prove the revealing partnership of both a series currently stuck at 1-1 and a fourth Test that had spent two days in the balance.
By the time the bad light closed early at 6 p.m., drawing boos from onlookers as they began to filter, India had turned its overnight score from 43 for no loss and a deficit of 56, to 270. for three and a lead of 171. England, so dynamic after registering 191 tourists on day one, already know their pursuit will be difficult.
SE11’s pitch had flattened out and, despite the overcast weather, the ball only swung fleetingly. Perspiration was not lacking but inspiration was lacking until the box of new Dukes balls came out after tea with India 236 for one and, like Andy Dufresne’s bible in Shawshank’s Redemption, salvation was inside.
Ollie Robinson struck immediately, with Sharma pulling a pull shot and going from the top to the long leg, much to his personal disgust, and Pujara completed that much-desired 81st row when an inside edge was gunned down from his thigh and into the legs. Moeen’s hands to slip.
Suddenly the previously sleeping crowd was alive and Virat Kohli, having been joined by the new Indian No.5 in Ravindra Jadeja, saw four hours of pad rash replaced by a stint of intense play. Jimmy Anderson found new energy in those 39-year-old legs and whistled that second new ball past the outside rim a few times.
But Kohli lived up to his former rival’s challenge, scoring a quartet of beau quatre before the light was deemed unplayable at 5:42 p.m. ET. The captain of India, after having impressed in his first 50 races, will resume on the morning of 22. It’s been almost two years since his last international century and he seems determined to end this race.
Kudos must go to Sharma, however, a drummer who hit this tour with a point to prove. It may have been his first century of testing away from home, but, in a statistic that underscores his prowess, it’s also his ninth in all formats in England. Only Don Bradman, with 11, has more as a visiting international drummer on these shores.
Every run of the 34-year-old railroad sleeper of a bat will have eaten away at Rory Burns, having missed opportunities to pull the opener on the 6th and 31st. Burns was blind to the second slip late on the second day and, the morning another failed to stick when Robinson found the edge and dived low to his right.
Neither was straightforward – the second would have been sensational – and Sky analysts quickly highlighted the viewing issues at the Oval, making it the field with the lowest percentage of successful catches (63%) in the country during the last decade. Still, those brought England’s wasted opportunities in the game to six, a continuation of a recent trend that sees them routinely forced to create well over 10 wicket-winning chances to eliminate their opposition. .
But then, in the first two sessions, as India went up to 199 for a per tea and an exactly 100 lead, Joe Root’s attack seemed one-dimensional and a little leggy in places too. If it hadn’t been for injuries, Anderson probably would have been rested by now while Robinson, new to Test Cricket this summer, is experiencing new levels of stress. It might be in retrospect, but Mark Wood’s extra pace would have been handy.
Chris Woakes is on the other end of the spectrum, fresh but undercooked, and he first delivered a sublime spell when India took over. But a warning from Ollie Pope the night before that hard work could follow turned out to be a good idea in the early exchanges, and it took Anderson’s second burst before lunch to produce the initial incision.
KL Rahul was caught behind on 46 after edging out a swinging seam delivery – not that the right-hander agreed when Root’s exam showed contact on Snicko – but he and Sharma have both made 300 runs this series. in what is a first by two Indian Openers against England.
Sharma had been calm up to this point, reaching her half century from 145 balls to make it her slowest in tryout cricket. But with Pujara allowed to get up and run across the width of the generally disappointing Craig Overton after lunch – and turn that confidence into a playful four-way uppercut against Woakes, the scoreboard was still on the move.
There was a scare for India when Pujara twisted his ankle as he turned for a run, the reruns of which left the crowds jolted. But after treatment and plenty of straps, the 33-year-old persevered and his footwork, so frantic earlier in the series before his 91 years at Headingley, was unhindered en route to a half-century of 103 balls.
However, the afternoon was mostly spent on Sharma, with the right-hander only needing 59 bullets to convert his half-century into triple digits. It was a cruise, Sharma generously sweeping Moeen, surpassing her previous overseas record of 83 and whipping Anderson for four across the square with a touch of Caribbean flair to hit 94.
Then came the revealing blow, Moeen sent over his head and Sharma raising her bat to all corners of the floor. It might be a day that finally ended, but it was the culmination of a round that just might dictate the course of this test match and this series. That said, Kohli also seems keen to make his mark.