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    Rohit, Jadeja, and Sarfaraz helped India recover with 62 runs added
Rohit, Jadeja, and Sarfaraz helped India recover with 62 runs added
via Midjourney

Rohit, Jadeja, and Sarfaraz helped India recover with 62 runs added

Sarfaraz's 66-ball innings lit up the afternoon but ended in heartbreak after he was run-out with Jadeja seeking a 100th run

India's batting improved significantly on the opening day of the third Test despite an early scare. After falling to 33 for 3 on a pitch that was full of runs, and with two debutants to follow, India looked to be in trouble. However, they reached 326 for 5 at stumps thanks to a 204-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja - India's first century stand of the series. Rohit and Jadeja scored centuries. Sarfaraz Khan made a sparkling debut, hitting 62 off 66 before being run-out.

For the first time since 1999, India had three players in their top seven who had played fewer than two Tests. But Mark Wood gave England a run for their money. He dismissed Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill, India's only centurions in this series before Thursday, with the new ball. Gill, in particular, received a ball that swung in and then nipped away, taking the outside edge. Wood's two scalps in the first six overs of the Test innings doubled his tally.

The early-morning moisture that assisted Wood may have helped Tom Hartley grip one in his ninth over, taking the front edge from Rajat Patidar. Jadeja had said England were not a difficult side to beat a day before the Test. The team management requested that he go out and bat at No. 5 in the ninth over. This was the second-earliest he has walked in to bat in theTest innings and the earliest in the first innings.

Promoting Jadeja served a dual purpose: safeguarding debutant Sarfaraz and introducing a left-handed batter. Despite returning from a hamstring injury and dealing with a public family dispute, Jadeja batted with a clear mind, reacting to each ball in an old-fashioned manner.

Rohit made a strong start but had to resort to unconventional tactics during the partnership. Wood attempted to bounce him with fielders at fine leg, deep backward square leg, and deep forward square leg. Despite the score and situation, Rohit chose not to hook and was hit in the helmet grille. He charged at James Anderson to reduce the movement, chipping one just out of mid-on's reach. With Hartley, he flicked against the turn, resulting in a four and an edge to slip, which Joe Root dropped.

Rohit will argue that this stroke of luck was just what he needed after the lack of it in the first two Tests. Meanwhile, the early movement has started slowing. Just after that miscued chip off Anderson, Rohit elegantly punched him through extra cover for four, a clear sign that he was in form.

Jadeja appeared equally confident. The two took India to lunch without any further trouble. Just after lunch, Rohit became the 14th player in this series to hit a six. The additional responsibility of leading an inexperienced line-up had slightly affected his approach. But we now saw Rohit's usual style, with well-timed lofts, paddle sweeps and plenty of back-foot runs. His second six took him above only Virender Sehwag among India's batsmen, surpassing MS Dhoni's score of 78.

When spin was introduced from both ends, Jadeja also caught up, hitting a six in the final over of the middle session, which was the first wicketless session of the series. Following the tea break, Rohit achieved his 11th century by scoring two easy runs off two short balls from Rehan Ahmed. The team management had likely hoped for the batters to avoid taking risks and instead capitalize on the inevitable loose balls that the inexperienced spin attack was bound to deliver. This is similar to how Rohit achieved his century.

Jadeja was finding it easy, especially with Wood's pace.  A top edge from Jadeja cleared long leg, who was 20 yards in off the fence. Rohit was receiving easy deliveries from Rehan. Fifty runs were scored in 11 overs after tea without any effort. Then Rohit attempted to pull a delivery from Wood that was probably not short enough to pull. It skidded on, took a big bite out of him and was caught at mid-wicket.

Sarfaraz emerged amidst whispers about his ability to play against quick, short-pitched bowling. The field placement, with Wood starting with a deep fine third, two men deep on the hook, a short leg, and a catching forward square leg, confirmed that these were not mere whispers. Wood went around the wicket and attempted to bounce Sarfaraz, who nonchalantly ducked the first three deliveries. Wood insisted on bowling another over towards the end of his spell. Sarfaraz ducked again before hitting a surprise yorker down the ground.

With pace out of the way, Sarfaraz demonstrated remarkable skill against spin, aided by Ben Stokes' attacking fields. He executed a series of one-twos: lofting the ball over the infield, followed by moving deep into the crease to take a single off the seemingly inevitable shorter delivery. His footwork was impeccable, and he executed the sweep early and the lofts down the ground perfectly. Before anyone realised, Sarfaraz had scored a fifty off 48 balls, which is the joint second-quickest for an Indian debutant.

Another subplot had developed: Jadeja had been stuck in the 80s and 90s. While Sarfaraz scored 50, Jadeja only managed to add 12 runs to his score. Although he had three centuries, he had been dismissed four times between scores of 80 and 99. He had become passive and almost seemed to give up. If Hartley had reviewed his lbw shout against Jadeja, he would have been given out lbw pad-first on 93.

Finally, on the 99th run, Jadeja called for an impossible single and unsuccessfully sent Sarfaraz back. India still left the door ajar, and Rohit threw his cap in disgust in the dressing room. Jadeja brought up his hundred off the next ball, but the celebrations were muted as Sarfaraz had been run out one delivery earlier. Jadeja, unbeaten on 110 with Kuldeep Yadav at his side, knew there was more work to be done on day two.

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