TEENAGE Haseeb Hameed struck an unbeaten half-century on debut as England put themselves in a dominant position in the first Test against India at Rajkot today (November 12).
At the end of day four, the tourists were 163 runs ahead of the top-ranked hosts with Hameed (62 not out) and skipper Alastair Cook (46 not out) giving their side a flying start in the second innings.
Hameed, watched by his Indian-born father in the stands, batted confidently, hitting five fours and a six during his 141-minute stay at the wicket.
At stumps, England were 114-0 after making 537 in their first foray at the Saurashtra Cricket Association ground, hosting its first Test ever.
India were bowled out for 488 in the post-lunch session with leg-spinner Adil Rashid (4-114) emerging as the most successful bowler.
With three sessions to go on a batsman-friendly wicket, England have now put themselves in a position to dictate terms to their formidable rivals.
Rashid chose to be cautiously optimistic of England’s chances of finishing the game on top.
“There’s still a lot of cricket to be played tomorrow (Sunday),” said Rashid.
“First we have to come out and put runs on the board and see where we are at lunchtime.
“If we are in a good position we might have a little bowl at India and see what happens.”
Rashid was also all praise for Hameed, calling him a “great talent” who worked very hard in the nets and was a good player of spin.
England came into this five-match series after a demoralising first-ever Test defeat to minnows Bangladesh, and with a squad packed with inexperienced players.
The home side owed much to Ravichandran Ashwin, who struck a crucial half-century to restrict India’s first-innings deficit to 49 runs.
Ashwin, who came in to bat when the hosts were placed on a shaky 349 for five, made 70 off 139 balls to frustrate the visitors.
Ashwin completed his seventh Test half-century in the process, emphasising once again his all-round skills.
When England last toured India in 2012, Ashwin had proved to be a thorn in their flesh, averaging over 60 with the bat.
It was also the last time that a visiting team took a first-innings lead in a Test in India.
Indian batsman Murali Vijay said he expected his side to bounce back in the game.
“It’s still a pretty good wicket but it has gone slower. There is a lot of assistance for spinners,” he said.
“We still have a chance and if we take 3-4 early wickets it will be an interesting game.”
The morning session saw India losing in-form skipper Virat Kohli to a freak dismissal when the batsman was on 40.
Kohli’s back leg hit the stumps and dislodged a bail as he tried to pull away a short delivery from Rashid.
He became the second Indian skipper to be hit-wicket after Lala Amarnath in the 1948-49 series at home against the West Indies.
Kohli was also out in a similar fashion in a one-day international against England in Cardiff in 2011.
India, 319-4 overnight, started the day cautiously with Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane (13) not taking any unnecessary risks against a disciplined England attack.
But they were quick to latch on to poor deliveries, with Rahane imperiously pulling a short ball from Chris Woakes to the square leg fence.
Rahane’s flourish, however, proved short-lived as he lost his stumps to Ansari after completely misjudging the length.
But it was the dismissal of Kohli, who has scored two Test double centuries this year, which hit India the hardest.
The otherwise prolific Kohli had been keen to improve his dismal average against England but failed to build on his good start. He hit five fours in his 95-ball knock.
The home team have won 12 and drawn one of their last 13 Tests at home since England’s historic 2-1 triumph in India in 2012.