Sharma and Gill pile on for India as England stumble towards heavy defeat | England in India 2024

It was a beautiful, sunny second day in Dharamsala. So beautiful and sunny that traveling England fans could have been forgiven if they had opted to wander the winding streets of McLeod Ganj, perhaps walking to Bhagsunag Waterfall or taking a ride to the temple near Dharamkot The pine trees are draped with Tibetan flags.

However, there may still be some free time at the end of this fifth Test as India have served three more penalties to set up a quick victory and a 4-1 series win. At stumps, the hosts underlined the lightness of the surface that England had squandered 24 hours earlier, finishing on 473 for eight, a menacing 255 runs ahead.

Had anyone opted for sightseeing rather than English suffering, the aesthetically inclined among them would have missed out on a rather brilliant stroke play from India; two nifty and virtually frictionless centuries from Rohit Sharma (103) and Shubman Gill (110), followed by two fun fifties from newcomers Devdutt Padikkal (65) and Sarfaraz Khan (56).

On the English side of the ledger, there were some notable strikes among the seven wickets collected on the day. The star was Ben Stokes, who had gone mad over his side’s wicketless morning and, after a duck in their 218 all-out, had castigated himself by sending down his first ball since Lord’s last summer – a gap of 251 days – and immediately hit the jackpot.

It broke the “little promise” that had been made to the team’s physio because he was not allowed to bowl on this tour after knee surgery in November last year when Stokes drove up after lunch and sent a lovely ball to Sharma which latched on, lifted off and bounced off the stump. Cue Ian Botham’s line from Graham Gooch: “Who writes your scripts?” – amidst the mix of shock and delight.

Jimmy Anderson came into the game and removed a second previously indelible man, Gill, in the very next over, as this time the ball hit sharply and struck his target for Test wicket number 699. However, the 41-year-old waited for his 700th after that and sent it to just 10 overs in three games and was completely unused in the final session.

India were already 61 runs ahead, three wickets down, after the double blow after lunch and were soon shaken up by a few players who should temper the talk of a weakened Indian team. The truth is that the hosts have addressed a bottleneck of budding talent in this series, such as the third swashbuckling half-century for Khan.

This theory was supported by debutant Paddikal, a complete left-hander who Moeen Ali might sue for copyright infringement if the two were not old friends from the Indian Premier League. Admittedly a little taller but fine, another dream weaver who belted 10 fours and became the fifth man over 50 when he tossed up Shoaib Bashir for a straight six.

This was not an entirely unknown sensation for Bashir, as the young off-spinner craned his neck for sixes eight times in this innings, the most of any England bowler and hit a second ground for Moeen, who had eight against Australia in the last game at Edgbaston failed summer ash – to have contentious thoughts from a distance.

Likewise, the young off-spinner held his nerve, figures of four for 170 from 44 overs, building on another marathon spell of 21 overs, three for 59. He broke the fourth wicket stand of 97 with his first ball after tea As Sarfaraz slipped, Paddikal conceded a flaw and saw Dhruv Jurel hole out on the 15th. There should have been a fifth over too, Kuldeep Yadav falling to 23 in the penultimate over when Stokes missed a bottom edge on a boot at gully.

So ended a day of frustration for the tourists and a golden day for India after Tom Hartley’s cheap removal of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin was followed by an unbroken, mischievous battle of 45 between Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah; The friendly Mark Wood, who scored 89 nothing from 15 overs, might have been out on one of his better days.

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But after taking 20 wickets in the first two Tests, England have since struggled to create the necessary threat with the ball. No wonder Stokes felt the need to intervene. His five-over game – in which he dropped a return catch to Khan only to find it was a no-ball – was driven by the desperation that Sharma and Gill first inspired.

Their 171-run stand at the second wicket was perhaps a contrast of physique but not of style as both right-handers played with crisp precision in technique and shot selection. It also came, not least, when Sharma toppled Bashir for a six and a four in the third over of the day and Gill then delivered a flat, straight six off Anderson.

Both played with stokes, gaps created by fielding maneuvers were immediately targeted, bowling changes met with strong reactions. There was only one chance, a lead from Sharma to 68, which flew past leg slip and left Zak Crawley just gasping for some fresh mountain air.

Sharma’s 154-ball century came with a fumbled single and a modest raise of the bat, Gill’s from 147 balls, via a swept four and a more elaborate lift of the cap. India’s top three each have two centuries in the series, another sign of the widening gap.

England work on the field in the shadow of the Dhauladhar Mountains on the second day. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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