New Delhi: India lost five wickets in the morning session on Thursday, including that of Sachin Tendulkar for just 10, and were 83 for 5 at one stage, but a century on Test debut by Rohit Sharma and his game-changing 198-run partnership with R Ashwin helped India end day two of the first Test against West Indies at 354 for 6, giving the hosts almost a decisive lead of 120.
Shane Shillingford started the day spinning the game West Indies' way with his four-wicket spell (4 for 130), but then the tide started turning in India's favour. First, MS Dhoni and Rohit added 73 to steady the ship and then Ashwin helped Rohit row it to a match-winning situation. At stumps, Rohit looked impregnable at 127* and Ashwin was just eight runs away from his second Test century.
The day started in anticipation of a Tendulkar special, which offie Shillingford denied to disappoint the crowd. But it ended with something special, ironically from a man who is likely to take Tendulkar's No. 4 spot in Test cricket.
Sammy began the day throwing the ball to his offspinner, who returned his captain's favour with four wickets in the morning session. Dhawan was not his fluent self, read the length wrong and lost his stumps. Murali Vijay was foxed by Shillingford's turn as he came down the track but couldn't reach the pitch of the ball that turned to miss his bat and have him stumped. Dhawan scored 23 and Pujara 26, and just 26 runs after their overnight 37 for 0, Indian openers were back in the hut.
But the crowd didn't mind that because it meant Tendulkar walking in to bat in his last match at the Eden. The noise was deafening and increased a few decibels when he hit Shillingford for two boundaries to reach 10.
India's 'Wall' in the making, Cheteshwar Pujara (17), looked solid at the other end until debutant Sheldon Cottrell decided to slip in a sharp bounce. The Saurashtran tried an uncharacteristic upper cut, but only managed to guide it to the waiting gloves of Denesh Ramdin.
Jaws didn't drop there but at the fall of next wicket. Tendulkar played Shillingford for turn, which wasn't there, and missed the line. The ball struck him on his back leg and the umpire upheld the LBW shout. Replays showed the ball hit Tendulkar high on the leg, but that was past. The master had to make his long walk back.
Rohit joined Kohli, but the offie was enjoying himself by now and added Kohli to his wickets column for just three - caught bat-pad at backward short leg. India 83 for 5.
Rohit now had his skipper Dhoni at the other end, and the latter was soon at the control station of the partnership, with India 120 for 5 at lunch. The duo brought up their 50-run stand and India's 150 soon after the break. Dhoni was approaching his half-century, facing an animated Tino Best bowling with a changed ball. The first delivery with the changed ball invited a needless poke from the Indian captain. Dhoni c Ramdin b Best 42.
At 172 for 6, India were still 62 runs short of erasing West Indies' 234. Rohit would not have imagined to be in this situation in his debut Test - at home, but he seemed ready for anything thrown at him.
A half-century on debut arrived in 95, with Ashwin settling in at the other end. Tea was still a fair distance away, but reaching 200 raised hopes and spirits in the dressing room. The unbroken 50-plus stand took India to tea at 229 for 6, just five shy of overhauling the Windies.
In the first over after tea itself, the scoreboard read: India 234 for 6, West Indies 234 all out. Scores level.
Ashwin brought up his fourth Test fifty in 71 balls, once again proving that he was a better batsman than a No. 8. The 100-run seventh-wicket stand followed, and West Indies shoulder started dropping. The game was slowly but surely drifting away from the visitors.
Windies didn't take the second new ball straight away but waited till the 87th over. However, the new ball started coming nicely onto the bat, allowing the Indian duo to score freely.
India's 300 came up in the 91st over, with Rohit close to a Test hundred to complete his dream debut. It eventually arrived off the 194th ball he faced. A promise had been revived.
It was now about getting through to stumps without losing the eighth wicket. Ashwin, meanwhile, had other ideas. Runs started flowing from his bat and instead of buckling down for stumps, India started firming up its grip on the match.
150 of the partnership and 350 of the Indian innings were on the board. It looked impossible at 83 for 5; but Rohit, the 14th Indian to score a century on Test debut, and Ashwin, who already has a Test century against West Indies, were still there at stumps.