Magic Rishabh Pant takes fourth Test away from England

Anderson and Stokes drag tourists back into contention but Pant puts India in control

India’s Rishabh Pant celebrates scoring his fine century on Friday. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

India’s Rishabh Pant celebrates scoring his fine century on Friday. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

 

Fourth Test day two: India 294-7 off 94 overs (R Pant 101, W Sundar 60*, J Anderson 3-40, J Leach 2-66, B Stokes 2-73) lead England 205 (B Stokes 55, A Patel 4-68) by 89 runs.

They say the great players have an ability to bend the script to their will and when a couple of them on opposing sides are at it, such as Ben Stokes and Rishabh Pant on the second day of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, the results can be breathtaking.

For two sessions Stokes looked to have defied expectations and wrestled England back into contention after a disappointing first day. Their 205 all out was light, so too a bowling attack deliberately weakened to shore up the batting. And yet by tea India had been pegged back to 153 for six through the sheer bloodymindedness of Stokes.

England’s vice-captain had overcome the 38c heat and a stomach bug to deliver a herculean performance with the ball, claiming the key wickets of Virat Kohli for a duck and Rohit Sharma for a patient 49. A smart catch at slip also accounted for Ajinkya Rahne on 27, while overall he was ever-willing for the hamstrung Joe Root, sending down more overs of heft than he had previously been able to muster all series.

Having top-scored 24 hours earlier with a defiant 55, one wondered whether another Test match was going to see the name Ben Stokes run through it like the words in a stick of rock and, given England’s resources and 2-1 deficit in alien conditions, possibly sit among the all-rounder’s now bulging catalogue of greatest hits.

It transpired Stokes was not indefatigable, however, and in the final session, as he began to flag and Root started desperately looking around for alternatives, Pant produced a quite audacious counterattacking 101 from 118 balls that, alongside an unbeaten 60 from Washington Sundar, ultimately flipped the second day on its head.

Though Pant eventually fell, handing Jimmy Anderson a third wicket of the innings just moments after sealing his third Test century with a six off Root, India closed on 294 for seven with a commanding lead of 89. Kohli’s men must avoid defeat to make June’s World Test Championship fine but now appear well placed to book their place in style and prevent Australia from meeting New Zealand.

Sundar, India’s insurance policy at No 8, deserves huge plaudits for his part in a stand of 113 with Pant. The pair had come together at 146 for six and in the space of 26 overs laid waste to an England attack that was relying on three men - Stokes, Anderson and Jack Leach - and trying to mask the shortcomings of the recalled Dom Bess.

Ben Stokes celebrates after taking the wicket of Virat Kohli. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP
Ben Stokes celebrates after taking the wicket of Virat Kohli. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

Bess once again found control elusive, his array of liquorice all sorts often releasing the pressure valve and leaking 56 runs from 15 overs. That said, the off-spinner did see an lbw against Sundar overturned before the close due to a fine inside edge and on another day might have similarly ended Pant’s firework display on 35.

The latter came on the stroke of tea. It looked a harsh call from umpire Nitish Menon and never more so when, on review, Hawkeye showed the ball to be hitting the top of the stumps but – crucially – not enough to overcome the “umpire’s call” protocol.

Pant, a batsman-wicketkeeper forged in the fire of the Indian Premier League, is not the type to dwell on such matters and while one errant shy at the stumps saw him short of his ground, over the course of the next hour or so he dominated proceedings in a way that, like his 91 in the first Test, underlines what a special talent India have produced.

This wasn’t chancy hitting, rather an intelligently constructed innings for both the conditions and the situation. Pant had taken 82 watchful balls to reach his half-century but needed just 33 more to reach his third Test century, unleashing nine fours and that milestone-sealing slog sweep off Root to spark wild celebrations.

His treatment of Anderson and the second new ball showed none of the earlier respect afforded to England’s record wicket-taker by the senior Indian batsman, instead immediately dancing down the pitch to slot a four over mid-off and then following this up with slap through cover. Though Pant eventually perished, picking out short mid-wicket, he had left an indelible mark on this deciding Test.

On another day it might have been Stokes returning for England press duties after stumps, rather than the now regular sight of spin coach-cum-shock absorber Jeetan Patel, with the all-rounder having produced his best performance with the ball on tour.

A 10-over burst in the morning, only broken up by an over of rest when he swapped ends, followed some typically thrifty work by Anderson and Leach’s fourth removal of Chesteshwar Pujara this series by wiping out Kohli without scoring. It was a brutish dismissal too, teasing a feathered catch behind when extracting some extra bounce.

That dismissal brought into question England’s decision to drop a seamer on this surface, so too Anderson’s removal of Rahane before lunch with a beautiful display of swing bowling that found the edge and handed the 38-year-old his 900th international wicket across all formats.

The pick for Stokes came in the afternoon, however. Since Root’s double-century, Rohit Sharma has been the best on show across both sides and here the so-called ‘Hitman’ was rock steady. But just when he was eyeing his half-century, having kept out 143 deliveries, Stokes followed an array of outswingers with one that hooped into his pads.

With Ashwin responding to some rough treatment from Stokes by tamely clipping Leach to short midwicket on 13, England somehow found themselves the ascendancy. Pant was having none of it, however, and through his flashing blade has likely trashed the hopes of both Ashes rivals in the space of one incredible innings. - Guardian

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