In less than a week, since scoring a match-winning double century against Australia in the final ODI game of the just concluded series, Rohit Sharma came up with a very creditable hundred on debut on the second day of the first test match against the West Indies. Incidentally, Sharma’s 177 also proved to be match-winning in the end. Kolkata’s Eden Gardens was packed to capacity and most spectators had come to cheer the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, who was playing his 199th test. Pleasantly, however, the crowd was not disappointed, despite the master blaster departing early. Tendulkar had scored just 10, when he was adjudged LBW, even though the ball appeared to be clearly missing the stumps. Early on in the West Indies’ first innings, India’ other new test-cap, Mohammad Shami bowled magnificently, and with Ashwin, he restricted the tourists to a very modest 234. Shami, who had a haul of 4 wickets in the first innings; was to scalp another 5 West Indian wickets, when the tourists batted again.
But the start of Indian innings was disastrous, as the top order batsman fell early. Rohit Sharma joined Virat Kohli in the middle, when Tendulkar fell. It was 82/4 at that stage. One run later, Kohli was consumed by Shane Shillingford, the most effective Caribbean bowler on second day. With 5 top batsmen gone for 83, Rohit Sharma was presented with a challenge on a platter. He and skipper Dhoni added 73 for the sixth wicket, with Dhoni playing a dominant role. When Dhoni was caught behind, the Indian score showed 156/6. Now other than Ravichandran Ashwin, Sharma only had the great Kolkata crowd for company and the challenge for him had become more acute. Since a test-match situation is vastly different from limited-over games, Sharma could not have drawn any lesson from his experience of 108 ODIs. Therefore, he allowed himself to settle and made steady progress. He refrained from being tempted and his first test-runs, a long-leg pull to the fence for 4, came after he had already faced 13 scoreless balls. By a strange coincidence, it was a debutant batsman making his first runs against a debutant bowler, Sheldon Cottrell. For the West Indies, Cottrell was also making his debut. Sharma displayed great discipline, as he left many deliveries on the off-side and avoided flashy aerial strokes. Ashwin was a worthy partner on the other end, playing with an accomplished maturity. At the end of the second day, Sharma was unbeaten with a debut century; Ashwin was 92 not out; the two batsmen had already added 198 for the seventh wicket and the India innings looked pretty healthy at 354 for 6.
The third day’s dramatic play ended with India winning by an innings and 51 runs. In the morning, Sharma went on to finish with 177 and Ashwin notched up 124, his second test century. India’s final score of 453 proved too much for the West Indies, as their second innings folded at 168 in just under 55 overs. But the final day’s hero was Mohammad Shami, who bettered his first innings performance, by maintaining an accurate spell on day 3. Even as the wicket had already started cracking, Shami bowled creditably. Four out of Shami’s five victims fell to fast-paced accurate on-stumps deliveries. While Ramdin was caught by close-in fielder, Murali Vijay, when the batsman tried to fend-off a beautiful delivery from Shami, the other three had their stumps shattered by Shami’s sheer pace. Just the one batsman fell to a convincing LBW decision on Shami’s bowling in the second innings.
For the records, both Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Shami were contemplating choices before the start of the test match and selectors spent some time before deciding about their inclusion in the final XI. Sharma was finally preferred over Ajinkya Rahane and Shami came in place of Umesh Yadav. The two of them duly justified the faith, selectors reposed in them and they made most of the opportunities provided to them. While it was Shami on the first day, who contributed largely in restricting the West Indies, Sharma put India on a commanding pedestal on day 2. In the process, the two debutants also recorded impressive individual performances. There may not be many instances in test history, where two debutants have won the game for the team in such fashion. The appreciative Eden Gardens crowd watched keenly, as Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Shami turned the match on its head.