BEN STOKES and his England players were given a taste of their own medicine by an Indian hurricane called Rishabh Pant.
Pant batted with just as much brilliance and brutality as the likes of Jonny Bairstow this summer and rescued his team from a dire predicament.
India were 98-5 at one stage with Jimmy Anderson swinging his magic but Pant’s response was to tear into England’s bowlers with the aggression and audacity of an inveterate risk-taker.
It is exactly the way England responded to sticky situations against New Zealand. That approach was tagged Bazball after the nickname of new coach Brendon McCullum. Well, this was Pantball and the chunky left-handed wicketkeeper certainly sprayed shots to all parts.
He reached his century from just 89 balls and some of his strokes were thrilling in their ingenuity.
Once, he landed flat on his back after whacking spinner Jack Leach for a one-bounce four.
Another time, he reverse ramped Anderson for two, which was bold but not quite as spectacular as Joe Root’s two sixes using the same unorthodox shot against the Kiwis.
Another over from Leach cost 22 runs and included a one-handed hit by Pant that sailed into the crowd at long-on. But his innings wasn’t wild slogging, it was a calculated assault.
Pant was eventually out for 146 from just 111 balls – caught at slip by Zak Crawley off Root attempting another big blow – when on course for the fastest 150 ever made against England.
Pant found a superb ally in another left-hander, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, and the pair put on 222 in just 38.5 overs for the sixth wicket.
FREE BETS AND SIGN UP DEALS – BEST NEW CUSTOMER OFFERS
By the close of day one of the Fifth Test – yes, the Fifth Test because this match is held over from last summer after being postponed because of Covid fears – India were 338-7.
England assistant coach Paul Collingwood said: “Pant’s counter-attack was brilliant to watch. When someone plays out of his skin in an entertaining manner, you’ve got to look at the bigger picture.
“For Test cricket to survive, we’ve got to make it more entertaining. He certainly played some amazing shots.
“We’re not playing conventional Test cricket, we’re always looking to take wickets rather than stem the flow of runs. There’s been a huge change in mentality.
“If we can keep India to under 360 or 370, we’ll have done really well.”
Pant added: “The pressure was there after we lost those early wickets but I just tried to focus on the ball. I might play some unusual shots but really I try to play the percentages.”
After Stokes chose to bowl first, Crawley was soon in the action, holding two and dropping one catch in the opening session.
He clung on when Shubman Gill guided Anderson tamely to second slip but spilled an opportunity low to his right offered by Hanuma Vihari off Potts. In the next over, however, Crawley snaffled a comfortable edge from Pujara.
Pujara had earlier been given out for 13, caught behind off Stuart Broad. But a review showed the ball brushed his back thigh rather than the bat.
After rain held up play for 90 minutes, Potts had Vihari plumb lbw and then Virat Kohli, attempting to shoulder arms, succeeded only in deflecting the ball onto the stumps.
Potts dismissed Kane Williamson three times out of four during the New Zealand series and now he had India’s No.1 gun.
When Shreyas Iyer tickled a short ball from Anderson down the legside and Sam Billings took a fine one-handed catch diving to his left, India were 98-5 and in big trouble.
Anderson, who missed the final Test against New Zealand, had three wickets and was bowling immaculately and Potts had two, although he later took some heavy punishment from Pant.
Pant was even more severe on Leach, whose nine overs cost 71 runs.
Pant and Jadeja transformed the match with their huge stand, which rattled along at more than five-and-a-half an over.
Read More on SE
England started to look a touch ragged in the closing session, with a wild four byes sent down by Stokes, four overthrows by Crawley and sub fielder Ethan Brookes and a bouncer by part-time spinner Root that Pant slapped for four.
This game could become the biggest test of Stokes’ leadership and England’s new philosophy so far. Let’s see how they bat. It sure won’t be defensive.
After Pant departed, Stokes bounced out Shardul Thakur but Mohammed Shami survived with Jadeja 83 not out.