Three century-makers as England hit 537

Ben Stokes rode his luck to hit the third century in England's 537 all out before the tourists' bowlers quickly discovered how hard it may be to take 20 Indian wickets for victory in Rajkot.
Indian wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha left, appeals for the wicket of England's batsman Zafar AnsariIndian wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha left, appeals for the wicket of England's batsman Zafar Ansari
Indian wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha left, appeals for the wicket of England's batsman Zafar Ansari

Joe Root, the first of England’s centurions, projected at close of play on day one that this first Test of five may go into fast-forward as the pitch begins to deteriorate.

There was no obvious sign of an early start to that process yet, however, as India’s reply reached 63 without loss in a shortened evening session on day two.

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Moeen Ali (117) needed just a single to add his hundred to Root’s, and duly scampered it from the third ball of the morning.

Then Stokes (128), who shared a damaging sixth-wicket stand of 99 in just 21.1 overs with Jonny Bairstow, made sure England built on their highly-encouraging position.

It was only the second time England have had three individual hundreds in the same innings in Asia, the previous in Kanpur 55 years ago, and not since Cardiff in May 2011 against Sri Lanka have they managed the feat anywhere.

Stokes’ previous three Test innings against India were all ducks, but it was a case of zero to hero at his fourth attempt as he reached three figures from 173 balls, having hit 12 fours and a six.

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Moeen counted nine fours in his four-hour milestone, and in the next over from Umesh Yadav he added three more in four balls - twice helped by unimpressive work in the field.

He was to pay for a misjudgment against Mohammad Shami, though, getting his angles wrong and leaving one from round the wicket which knocked out off-stump.

After a fifth-wicket stand of 62 with Moeen, Stokes’ new partner Bairstow soon announced his intent by hitting leg-spinner Amit Mishra straight for six.

There were two escapes in successive Yadav overs for Stokes, on 60 and 61, when wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha failed to hold diving chances - the second easier than the first - after the left-hander toe-ended attempted cuts at wide deliveries.

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That took India’s tally of missed catches in the innings to five - four of them off Yadav - but Saha did take his next chance when Bairstow went after another wide one from Shami to depart for a rapid 46, having struck five fours and two sixes.

Chris Woakes then fell in the first over after lunch for four, to a thin edge behind as Ravindra Jadeja (three for 86) found some turn, and Adil Rashid picked out mid-on off the slow left-armer having made five.

Stokes was fortunate that his mistimed slog-sweep at the same bowler swirled high between fielders in the leg-side ring, but it was then off Jadeja too that he made room to cut the boundary which brought up his fourth Test hundred.

Murali Vijay could not hold on at long-on off Mishra, without toppling over the boundary, as Stokes doubled his six tally on 110 and England ploughed on past 500 - the first visiting team to do so in India since their own 523 in Kolkata on their last successful visit in 2012.

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The deserving Yadav finally got Stokes, caught down the leg-side just before the scheduled end of the afternoon session, and England were all out when Zafar Ansari was lbw sweeping at Mishra for 32 - leaving Stuart Broad unbeaten on six, after being relegated to number 11 in his 100th Test.

Stokes was limping and stretching in the latter stages of his innings, the England camp explaining he was suffering with cramp.

Then, as India started their reply, Stokes left the field clutching his right leg after fter diving in vain to his right at slip to try to intercept what turned out to be byes off Moeen. Stokes went for more treatment and was off the field for around 20 minutes before returning.

Should the discomfort compromise his bowling, it would be a significant reduction of England’s resources and gameplan.

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Pitch analysts were reporting, meanwhile, that the ball was turning already for Moeen, who replaced Chris Woakes in only the sixth over of India’s innings, more than it had throughout for Ashwin et al.

But Murali Vijay (25 not out) and Gautam Gambhir (28no) suffered no obvious alarms in their unbroken opening stand.

Moeen Ali believes England will need to be patient with the ball if they are to cement their strong position

Moeen knows his fellow bowlers will still have to apply themselves, with spin consultant and former Pakistan international Saqlain Mushtaq’s advice to stay patient foremost in their thoughts.

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“There is a bit of reverse and a bit of spin there for us which is encouraging for tomorrow,” Moeen said.

“In general (bowling) quite slow and keeping the stumps in play for the one that skids through (is the best tactic). We have to be patient, as Saqi keeps telling us about, and varying our pace.”

Moeen said reverse swing had offered the greatest challenge during his century, which he completed after picking up the one run he needed overnight.

“Personally I found the reverse swing of the seamers, especially (Mohammed) Shami, was tough on that wicket,” he said.

“They were reversing it both ways and that was quite tough.

“The reverse swing starts pretty early here.”