Rohit Sharma’s imperious century gave India the edge over England after three days of a fascinating fourth Test at The Oval. Rohit was commanding in making 127 – his first Test hundred outside India – leading the way as the tourists reached 270-3, a lead of 171. He added 83 for the first wicket with KL Rahul, then 153 for the second with Cheteshwar Pujara, who was impressive for 61.
Ollie Robinson struck twice in the first over of the second new ball to see off Rohit and Cheteshwar Pujara (61), giving England something to cling to after managing a solitary breakthrough in more than two sessions. Rohit is renowned as one of the greatest one-day batsmen in history but there was one notable blind spot on his Test CV – with all seven of his centuries coming in home conditions.
In a series that has been fascinatingly contested and a Test that had seen the sides arm wrestle for three days, India may have made the decisive move. Faced with overheads that would have encouraged the bowlers, the tourists collectively stuck to old-fashioned Test values to bat themselves into a position from which they will be considered favorites.
There were times when England was flat, the mood of the home team as dark as the sky overhead. Some of England’s problems are of their own making. They could have bowled India out more cheaply on day one and been more ruthless with the bat on day two. In total, they have missed six catches. They are not out of this contest – early wickets on Sunday with a ball that is only 12 overs old may yet mean their fourth-innings target is within reach. However, England will have to be near-perfect from now on if they are to emerge victoriously.
Rohit is one of the finest white-ball openers of all time, but his growing stature in Test cricket has been built on performances in India. In, his 25th away Test, he played with discipline, determination, and control to finally reach three figures overseas. After he was missed by Burns on Friday evening on six, the same man put down a diving one-handed chance at second slip off Robinson when Rohit was on 31.
Rohit capped his impressive efforts in the series with a superb 127, his first-ever overseas ton, helping turn a first-innings deficit of 99 into a lead of 171 by the time bad light drew in. India finished on 270 for three and is poised to make life extremely difficult for the hosts, with captain Virat Kohli ominously positioned to lead the charge on day four.
Reprieved, Rohit moved to his slowest half-century in Test cricket, from 145 balls with only two fours. Though his defense remained solid, he needed just another 59 deliveries to go to 100, bringing up the milestone with a majestic six over long-on off Moeen Ali. Pujara painfully rolled his ankle early in his innings, yet played with uncharacteristic fluency, especially on the cut. The drama of the second new ball brought The Oval to life, but Kohli’s continued presence is ominous for England.
This was a back-breaking day for England. Though the clouds were present virtually throughout, the hosts were faced with the batting of the highest class on the flattest of pitches. There were times when England looked weary. There were others when an attack of four fast-medium bowlers lacked variety and the off-spin of Moeen was manipulated.
The dropped catches have proved incredibly costly and Joe Root’s side was strangely reluctant to go short – Rohit barely faced a bouncer until after tea. Even when the breakthrough came, it was from a Robinson loosener, a long hop that Rohit inexplicably helped to long leg. Five balls later, Pujara inside-edged onto his thigh and was adjudged to have been caught at third slip on review. As the light worsened, Root was told he could only employ spin, which he did for two overs before deciding it was too comfortable for the batsmen, and when England tried to go back to pace, the umpires intervened.
He eventually fell to the first delivery of the second new ball, an underpowered short one from Robinson, but by then his stands of 83 alongside KL Rahul and 153 with Pujara flipped the game heavily in the tourists’ favor.