England’s brilliant start to this tough tour of India continued on the second day in Rajkot. Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes scored centuries as England piled on 537 before the hosts reached 63 for no loss at the close.
England continued to dominate the sloppy hosts who added two drops, a catch missed because of the captain’s enthusiasm, and various instances of misfields and lazy legs allowing extra runs. The India openers passed the first stage of what is going to be a test of character by batting out 23 overs without drama even though the odd ball misbehaved.
Moeen Ali took just three balls to move from his overnight score of 99 not out to his fourth Test hundred. Stokes on the other hand banished the memories of his three ducks in three innings against India with an all-out assault in the first session, which brought him 65 off 95 and yielded England 139 runs for the loss of two wickets. He wasn’t at his fluent best but he looked calm and in control.
During the first session, England scored 139 runs at well over four runs an over, eventually grinding their way past 500 in the second session of day two. India had not conceded more than 300 at home in Test cricket since Australia managed 408 on their tour in March 2013, and no visiting team had passed 500 since England’s last visit in late 2012.
Shockingly, though, Wriddhiman Saha, reputed to be a good technical wicketkeeper who has also rescued India with the bat on at least three occasions in the last four completed Tests, was shown up as he dropped Stokes twice.
Keeping wicket for the first time with a side scoring 300 in India, Saha’s feet didn’t go to his left on both occasions. He just dived to his left, shelling a difficult first one and a regulation one after that. Both were on the cut off the bowling of Umesh Yadav – making it four drops out of five off his bowling – with Stokes on 60 and 61.
The flow of runs never stopped for England, be it Jonny Bairstow, who drove floated leg-breaks from Amit Mishra into the stands at long off and long on or Zafar Ansari’s determined stand with Stokes.
A draw is still the likeliest result, but an England win is second favourite. It is difficult to imagine England losing this Test from here, in fact there have been only three instances where a team has scored this many runs or more and lost in Test history.
When India came out to bat, M Vijay and Gambhir displayed alert minds and compact defence to end the day safely for the men in blue.