Rohit Sharma cut down on his flamboyance to author a chanceless century on debut and put India in command overcoming morning jitters on day two of the first cricket Test match against the West Indies in Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series here Thursday.
Five days after plundering a double hundred in the ODI against Australia that left the cricketing world stunned, Rohit mixed caution with elegance to remain unconquered on 127, as India finished the day on 354/6 at the Eden Gardens. Sharma became the 14th Indian to score a century on debut.
Giving Rohit company in the middle was a brilliant Ravichandran Ashwin (92 batting, 148 b, 10x4), with the duo eclipsing the good work done by the visitors' talented off-spinner Shane Shillingford (4/122), who pulverised the Indian batsmen in the opening session by claiming four scalps.
Rohit and Ashwin were the batting heroes of the day as they combined to pull India out of trouble. Rohit-Ashwin's unbroken seventh wicket partnership has fetched 198, and the hosts have now opened up a 120-run lead over the West Indies' first innings total of 234. The lead on a tricky Eden Gardens strip has put India in the driver’s seat.
With retiring legend Sachin Tendulkar being given out in a contentious manner in his penultimate match, the in-form Rohit struck 16 fours and one six while facing 228 balls to rescue the team.
On a dramatic day of fluctuating fortunes, the morning session belonged to the visitors, before the hosts steadied the ship post-lunch, and then consolidated their position with a rollicking batting show in the final two hours.
It has turned out to be an astounding year for Rohit, who scored a double century in ODIs, captained the Mumbai Indians to IPL and Champion League crowns, got appointed captain of Mumbai Ranji team, before his feat Thursday.
For long notorious for throwing his wicket after good starts, Rohit had to wait for six years during which he played 108 One Day matches before making it to the Indian Test XI. But once he made the cut, the 26-year-old announced his arrival with a bang, as he spearheaded a salvage effort after India were at one time deep in the woods at 83/5.
Rohit reached the three-figure mark in style with two back-to-back boundaries off another debutant Sheldon Cottrel to reach 102 in the 23rd over after tea. The milestone achieved, the young man raised his arms, pumped his fists, took off his helmet and waved his bat.
The hundred came in 239 minutes, as the stylish willower faced 194 balls, and unleashed a dozen fours and a solitary six off Shillingford to become the 14th Indian to score a hundred on his maiden Test appearance. He is also the third Indian after Deepak Shodhan and Mohammad Azharuddin to crack a ton on debut at the Eden Gardens.
Turning out in his 17th Test match, Ashwin played like a specialist batsman after coming to the crease at 156/6, when skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (42) got out.
Ashwin crafted some fluent strokes, to finish the day eight short of his second hundred. He had scored a match-saving century when the two teams had last met in 2011 in the Mumbai Test.
Rohit and Ashwin's efforts helped the crowd recover from the heartbreak of batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar's cheap dismissal, albeit to a debatable umpiring decision,
The big wicket of Tendulkar fell when Shillinford bowled a doosra, which pitched on the middle, straightened, eluded an outside edge from Tendulkar's defensive bat and hit the back pad high.
Umpire Nigel Llong of England raised the index finger as pin-drop silence descended on the stadium. Replays showed the ball striking the pad quite high and could have gone over the stumps.
Tendulkar faced 21 balls during his 41-minute stay. The memorable part were two exquisite fours through deep mid-wicket off Shllingford in the bowler's sixth over. The first was in fact the day's number one boundary.
At lunch, India were 120/5, 114 adrift of the West indies.
However, the complexion of the match started changing post-lunch, as Rohit and Dhoni put on 73 runs for the sixth wicket. Dhoni, earlier dropped at 12, was the sole batsman to get out in the second session.
There was a change of ball and it yielded immediate result. Starting a new spell, Tino Best got the leather to move just enough to induce an edge from Dhoni's bat who went for a drive while rooted in his crease.
But thereafter it was just hard work for the West Indies bowlers without much luck.