Birmingham: Rishabh Pant’s (146, 111b, 19×4, 4×6) brilliant, brutal and fearless century lifted India out of the woods after the visitors had been reduced to 98 for five here Friday in the rescheduled fifth Test against England. Rishabh Pant’s fifth Test hundred and his 222 runs partnership with Ravindra Jadeja (83 batting, 163b, 10×4) for the sixth wicket at least gave India some breathing space and the bowlers a total to bowl at. At stumps India were 338 for the loss of seven wickets with Jadeja and Mohammed Shami (0) batting at the crease.
The beauty of Pant’s batting is that he keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. He was fearless from the start, and brutal with the England bowlers. The worst sufferer was left-arm spinner Jack Leach who Pant hit for 59 runs including two sixes and two fours in the ninth over of the bowler. However it should also be stated that he paid scant respect to any other England bowler.
Pant reached his century in 86 balls, the quickest by an Indian wicket-keeper. In the process Pant erased MS Dhoni’s record of a century off 93 deliveries in the Faisalabad Test against Pakistan in 2006. In the process Pant showed his entire repertoire not afraid to lift the ball whenever he wanted to. There was the cover drive, the square of the wicket shots and the falling paddle sweep and pull that he often plays. In the end, it was quite apparent that England captain Ben Stokes had run out of ideas.
In the end, Pant fell to Joe Root trying to go for an expansive drive to a ball pitched outside the off stump with Zak Crawley taking a sharp catch at first slip. Credit must be given to Stokes for keeping that close-in fielder despite Pant’s pyrotechnics with the bat.
All the while Jadeja was quite content to play the second fiddle. He started off with a lofted drive off Leach, but then waited for the loose deliveries for boundaries. He kept the scoreboard ticking with quick singles and his efforts to hand over the strike to Pant paid rich dividends. But one has to talk about the elegant cover drive that he played off Anderson.
Earlier in the day, England put India in to bat after accidental skipper Jasprit Bumrah lost his first toss. Veteran seamer Jimmy Anderson (3/52) made the early inroads dismissing Indian openers Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara in near identical fashion. Gill (17 off 24 balls) looked good while hitting those four boundaries but jabbed at a delivery from Anderson pitched a shade outside the off-stump as Crawley took a regulation catch in the slip cordon.
Pujara (13 off 46 balls), who made a comeback in the series after missing home Test against Sri Lanka, looked solid as he hit an off-drive and square drive to collect a couple of boundaries but Anderson bowled a peach of a delivery to get him.
It pitched on length and climbed enough as the batter was forced to play an awkward defensive stroke only to find Crawley’s safe pair of hands in the slip cordon.
Lunch was taken early with rains interrupting play. After lunch it was the turn of Mathew Potts to strike as he dismissed Virat Kohli (11) and Hanuma Vihari (20) in quick succession. And when Anderson returned to pick up Shreyas Iyer (15), India’s back was against the wall.
Then the Pant show began and England and the crowd watched in awe.
Brief scores: India 338 for 7 (Rishabh Pant 146, Ravindra Jadeja 83 batting, Jimmy Anderson 3/52, Mathew Potts 2/85, Joe Root 1/23, Ben Stokes 1/34)