Ben Stokes hit an imposing century to put England in a dominant position on day two of the first Test against India in Rajkot.
The all-rounder was twice dropped by wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha on the way to 128 as England racked up 537.
Moeen Ali moved from 99 overnight to 117, while Stokes shared 99 with Jonny Bairstow, who made 46.
On a true surface, India reached 63-0 by the close, 474 behind, with Gautam Gambhir on 28 and Murali Vijay 25.
India’s comfortable progress in the evening session highlighted the size of England’s task if they are to take the 20 wickets required to end the hosts’ run of 12 wins and two draws in their past 14 home Tests.
However, England’s batting effort has them in control and wickets early on day three would put the world number ones under severe pressure.
“There is no shame in saying that at the end of the day, nothing happened. India played nicely, steadily. You can’t blame anybody – the pitch is good,” said former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott on BBC Test Match Special.
“Tomorrow might be different. Somebody might play down the wrong line, nick it and there’s a clatter of wickets. There’s nothing really there where you could say England bowled poorly – they haven’t.”
With England 311-4 overnight, Stokes, who began on 19, attacked the second new ball in the company of Moeen, who got the single he required for a hundred in the first over.
After Moeen was bowled shouldering arms to Mohammed Shami, Stokes added 99 in 21.1 overs with Bairstow as England piled up 139 runs in the morning session.
Bairstow’s loose edge behind was the signal for England to lose three wickets for 23 runs, but Stokes found an ally in Zafar Ansari.
After mixing leg-side power – two thirds of his runs came on the on side – with beautiful straight drives, Stokes brought up his fourth Test century, each scored on a different continent, by cutting Ravi Jadeja for four.
Eventually, the scoring dried up and the Durham all-rounder seemed to suffer with cramp, but by the time he was caught down the leg side off Umesh Yadav, England had a huge total.
“It was a curious innings – a superb innings,” said former England spinner Vic Marks on TMS. “The first half of it was just majestic but then he had a series of wobbles.
“Towards the end he looked pretty exhausted and was moving gingerly.”
The Stokes stats
- In 2016, Stokes’ batting average in Test cricket is 57.25 and his bowling average 19.80
- He has batted 11 times with Jonny Bairstow, averaging 69.50 together, scored at 4.9 an over
- England made three centuries in an innings for the first time since 2011, and for the first time in India since 1961
- Stuart Broad, in his 100th Test, batted at number 11 for the first time
More errors from India
India dropped three catches on the first day, none of which proved too costly, only for the hosts to be punished for reprieving Stokes.
The left-hander was put down on 60 and 61, in successive overs, with wicketkeeper Saha spilling edges off paceman Yadav.
India’s ground fielding was also shabby and, with Stokes enjoying the further fortune of miscues landing safely and one catch being carried on to the boundary by Vijay, captain Virat Kohli struggled to hide his frustration.
Kohli’s spinners also failed to make much of an impression, with leg-spinner Amit Mishra ineffective and Ravichandran Ashwin, the world’s number one bowler, neutralised by the tourists.
The off-spinner took two wickets before lunch on day one but then went without success for 34 overs, while the 167 runs he conceded is his most expensive Test return since England last visited India in 2012.
“Kohli has had so much success as captain and player, but what would happen when things start to go wrong?” asked Boycott.
“He’s a fiery character, even though he’s tried to curb it a bit. It’s easy to do that when things are going your way. If he has a couple of failures and India lose, I reckon the wheels could come off.”
England’s task becomes clear
India were under the weight of scoreboard pressure when they finally got the chance to bat after tea.
They were aided by a surface that remains flat – there were fewer signs of uneven bounce than on day one and only minimal turn – and some slightly wayward England new-ball bowling.
With seamers Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes too wide or too straight, the watchful pair of Vijay and recalled 35-year-old Gambhir cashed in on anything loose.
Spinners Moeen, Ansari and Adil Rashid were tidy, while Stokes did not bowl after spending time off the field following his innings.
Still, England have the luxury of knowing that India are likely to have to bat well into the fourth day before they can feel like they are back in the match.
‘England encouraged by spin and reverse’
England’s Moeen Ali, who was 99 not out overnight: “I slept well. Before I went in to bat I felt a bit lethargic but I got myself going and the singles were there for me to take.
“There were times I wanted to have a hack but had to rein it in.
“There was good spin for us and reverse for the seamers, so there is encouragement for tomorrow.
“The slower balls are spinning more than the rest, but the build-up to those has to be good to take wickets.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/37935755