Vijay Merchant, the original Mumbai batting master, never did it. Sunil Gavaskar, who carried the flame on, couldn’t either. Sachin Tendulkar didn’t even come close. Ajinkya Rahane, one of the inheritors of India’s greatest batting tradition, did what none of those in the pantheon could, striking a magnificent century at Lord’s. Seen in isolation, it was a superb innings, characterised by excellent temperament, fine judgment and glorious strokeplay. In the context of an opening day during which India had slumped to 145 for 7, it was so much more.
Rahane was dismissed for 103 in the 87th over of the opening day of the second Test on Thursday (July 17), but by then, the tail had once again helped deflate England’s spirit. Rahane added 90 with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who played another accomplished hand, and was then part of a rollicking 40-run stand (28 balls) with Mohammed Shami that was completely at odds with a well-grassed, bowler-friendly surface, as India saw out the first day at 290 for 9.
But for the middle session when they pitched the ball up and got due reward, England were poor. In the morning, when the conditions were most challenging for batting, they didn’t make India play enough. And in the final session, it was downright ragged, as Rahane raced from 50 to 100 at a run a ball. Shami slapped the ball around with some abandon, and there was little doubt which team left the pitch more satisfied with the day’s play.
It had started so well for England. Alastair Cook had little hesitation in bowling first on a surface that had plenty of green stubble, and James Anderson, who came into the game at the heart of an abuse-and-shove controversy, struck in the third over of the day. Pitched outside leg, the ball moved away enough to take the edge of Shikhar Dhawan’s bat. Gary Ballance, warned after some boisterous weekend behaviour, made no mistake at third slip.
M Vijay, dropped by Matt Prior off Stuart Broad’s bowling before he had scored, and Cheteshwar Pujara had to consolidate thereafter. With movement in the air and off the seam, survival rather than run-scoring was the name of the game. Vijay had fought his way to 24 when Liam Plunkett squared him up with one that straightened. The leading edge went to Ballance again, with the same result.
Virat Kohli failed twice at Trent Bridge, but there was nothing tentative about this approach to a tricky pitch. A sparkling cover drive off Ben Stokes got him going and he struck a couple more sweetly before Prior reprieved him off the last ball off the session. Moeen Ali induced the thin edge, but Prior couldn’t hold on.
It wasn’t a costly mistake though. England, perhaps having realised that they had bowled the wrong lengths in the morning, asked far more questions after lunch. Kohli was the first to fail the test, edging an Anderson delivery that left him a touch.
Through it all, Pujara batted impeccably, not tempted by wide balls and resolute against anything on the stumps. He had shown signs of upping the tempo when Stokes illustrated just why it was such a hard surface to bat on. Bowling up the slope from the Nursery End, he got one to nip back and hit the top of off stump. Pujara made 29.
Dhoni lasted 17 balls, but scored just one before edging Broad behind, leaving Ravindra Jadeja to come to the crease to a chorus of boos. The much-anticipated tussle with Anderson never materialised though, as he was trapped in front by an Ali delivery that went straight on.
Soon after tea, Stuart Binny was wrongly given out, after being struck high on the thigh pad. No one expected India to see it through to stumps, but by the end of the session, they had actually doubled their score. Rahane was especially severe on Anderson and Plunkett, combining pleasing drives with punchy pulls and ferocious carves over the offside. There was even an audacious straight six off Anderson.
The pitch may well ease out as the sun beats down – another scorching day is forecast on Friday – but Rahane and the lower order have certainly given Dhoni and his bowlers a total that they can defend. India’s bowlers may not be the quickest, but as they’ve shown in South Africa, Australia and even in England in the past, they often know how to make the most of favourable conditions.