Rishabh Pant changed his game-plan and in turn India’s fortunes with a magnificent century, helping the side snatch control from England’s grip to finish the second day at a robust 294 for 7 in the final Test here on Friday.
England dominated the first two sessions and India looked in all sorts of trouble before Pant (101 off 118 balls) suddenly decided to catch the opposition by the scruff of their necks, effortlessly changing gears in company of Washington Sundar (60, 117 balls, 8×4).
The duo added 113 runs in 26 overs but more importantly, landed an exquisite ‘left-hook’ on England’s hopes of turning party-poopers, having already conceded a first innings lead of 89 runs.
At stumps, Washington was still at the crease with Axar Patel (11).
For someone, who has always been panned for his lack of game awareness, it was Pant 2.
0 at play where he defended when it was necessary but unlocked his brutal attacking instincts when required.
The first 50 came off 82 balls and the next off 33 balls with Washington being the ideal foil, holding one end well en route to his third half century in Test cricket.
Just like playing a single spinner in the third Test was a blunder, England paid the price for playing a bowler short as their main four got tired during the final session.
In Virender Sehwag style, Pant deposited Dom Bess into the ‘cow corner’ of the stands against the turn, to complete his third Test hundred, first at home, having missed at least five in recent years.
When he finally got out, Root’s frustrated expression was a dead giveaway that the match was now out of hand for England, having conceded as many as 141 runs in a single session.
Pant had hit 13 fours and two sixes during an innings which, in all likelihood, will earn him the ‘Man of the Match’ award.
Ben Stokes (22-6-73-2) troubled the Indians with reared up deliveries, one of those got skipper Virat Kohli (0), but there was no trouble for Pant, who would gleefully pull the England all-rounder.
The audacity with which he came down the track against Anderson (20-11-40-3), depositing him over extra cover for a boundary, could have taken anyone’s breath away.
So subtly Pant changed the pace of his innings, that even Root didn’t know what hit his team which looked in control when India went into the tea at 153 for 6.
Pant was then batting on 36, defending the deliveries that would turn and jump off the rough while playing Anderson and Stokes judiciously.
England till then had maintained the shine of the ball well but post tea as the ball got soft, Pant took charge.
With Washington looking solid at the other end, Root asked Jack Leach (23-5-66-2) to come round the wicket and the idea played into Pant’s hands as the visitors didn’t attack the rough areas enough.
It was one fascinating day of Test cricket where flamboyant players like Rohit Sharma (49 off 144 balls) and Pant traded their natural attacking instincts for a more conservative approach.
The pitch wasn’t very difficult to bat on but certainly not as easy as Pant made it look with his devil-may-care approach which later rubbed on Washington.
Earlier, in the first session, Cheteshwar Pujara (17 off 66 balls) and Kohli’s (0 off 8 balls) dismissals brought England back in the game.
Ajinkya Rahane (27 off 45 balls) hit a flurry of boundaries to get the scoreboard moving but James Anderson had him caught at second slip with a beautiful delivery that held its line at the stroke of lunch in a session.
The approach taken by Rohit and Pujara during their 40-run stand of 24 overs in the morning session, wasn’t a bad one. They saw off Anderson’s morning spell with Stokes bending his back at the other end.
The flashy shots were cut out and with all the time at their disposal, they were ready to grind the bowlers out and dispatch those occasional bad balls to the boundary.
Stokes’ one such full toss or a tossed up one from Leach was given some rough treatment by Rohit, who otherwise produced a dead defensive bat on multiple occasions.
It was only towards the fag end of the session that he played an aerial shot, slog-sweeping Dom Bess between deep mid-wicket and deep square leg for a boundary.
Pujara also did the hard work but ended up frustrated with Leach making him his bunny.
He prodded forward hiding his bat behind the pads to a straighter one from Leach and Nitin Menon made a good decision factoring in the deliberate padding to a ball that was hitting off-middle.
The sparse Motera crowd, anticipating a ‘Friday matinee show’ from the megastar Indian captain was left high and dry when Stokes produced an effort ball with extra bounce outside the off-stump corridor which Kohli edged to Ben Foakes behind the stumps.
The script didn’t change until the final session but then they got struck by ‘Hurricane Pant’ which took its time to build up.