KOLKATA, India — Spellbinding bowling from Shane Shillingford was overshadowed by a debut Test hundred from Rohit Sharma and his face-saving, seventh-wicket stand with Ravichandran Ashwin that neutralised a West Indies fight-back and kept India in front in the first Test here on Thursday.
Off-spinner Shillingford grabbed 4-130 from 41 overs, but Sharma was undefeated on 127 and Ashwin was unbeaten on 92 eyeing his second Test hundred, as India reached 354 for six in their first innings on the second day at Eden Gardens for a lead so far of 120.
Shillingford appeared to have brought the Windies back into the Test with his four scalps, as India stumbled to 120 for five at lunch, and Tino Best put them on the brink of taking firm control when he removed opposing captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni following a sixth-wicket stand of 73 with Sharma after the interval.
But the balance of power gradually shifted away from West Indies, when Ashwin joined Sharma and they capitalised on weary bowlers, an old ball and an unhelpful pitch to paste the bowling, putting on 198 to leave India with the steering wheel firmly in their grip.
A half volley outside the off-stump from left-arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul was drilled through cover to take Sharma to his 50 from 95 balls.
But left-arm fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell, like Sharma, a Test debutant, learnt a tough lesson about playing at the highest level, when the Indian batting hero struck three consecutive boundaries in his 15th over to move from 94 to 106, to a tumultuous roar from the crowd that half-filled the vast arena.
It completed a sensational week for Sharma. Five days ago, he belted an amazing double-hundred against Australia in a One-day International and now he became the 14th Indian batsman to hit a Test hundred on debut.
West Indies were further frustrated, when Ashwin again displayed his efficiency with the bat at No.8, stroking the ball crisply and mixing it up with sound defence to reach his 50 from 71 balls. He will be eyeing his second Test hundred, after scoring his first in the series between the two sides two years ago at Mumbai.
Earlier, five wickets – four to Shillingford including soon-to-be retired batting megastar Sachin Tendulkar – left India reeling on 83 for five.
Shillingford bowled all but one over during the morning period from the High Court End (south), maintaining a tidy line outside off-stump and gaining enough turn to keep the Indian batsmen circumspect.
He made the breakthrough after India resumed from their overnight total of 37 without loss, when left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan played back to a delivery that kept low and was bowled off the inside edge for 23.
Shillingford’s constant pressure got the better of opener Murali Vijay and he was stumped for 26 from a clever piece of bowling, as the batsman moved down to smother the spin, he was deceived by a doosra, leaving India 57 for two.
None of the West Indies bowlers became overawed when Tendulkar came to the crease to a deafening roar from the crowd.
Shillingford continued to wheel away, although the little Indian master batsman clipped him for a couple leg-side boundaries, and Best found his rhythm and kept the ball just outside the off-stump.
In the space of 17 balls in the second hour of the morning, West Indies won the battle of attrition between the batsmen and the bowlers.
Cottrell collected his maiden Test wicket, when Cheteshwar Pujara chased a high long-hop and was caught behind from a thin edge for 17.
Shillingford had been dismissed the previous day by Tendulkar and he repaid the favour, when he had the batting kingpin lbw for 10, although TV replays suggested the ball struck the batsman too high, silencing the crowd that expected to see another memorable innings from their hero.
Shillingford completed his morning work removing Virat Kohli caught off bat-pad at forward short leg for three, playing defensively forward to a delivery that spun sharply.
In the final half-hour before lunch, West Indies got a bit ragged, as Dhoni and Sharma laid the stage for a fight-back after the interval.
After lunch, West Indies toiled for little reward, as Best grabbed the only wicket before tea, as Sharma dug deep to rescue the home team and with Ashwin guided India to 229 for six at the break.
The Caribbean side continued to bowl with discipline, but the flat pitch was unforgiving, and Dhoni and Sharma started the Indian revival.
Best got a second spell following the drinks break and had Dhoni caught behind for 42, playing away from his body at a delivery outside the off-stump to leave India 156 for six.
But West Indies failed to make further headway, as Ashwin joined Sharma and they absorbed the pressure and put Darren Sammy’s men on the back-foot.
The second and final Test starts next Thursday at the Wankhede Stadium in Tendulkar’s home city of Mumbai and will be followed by three One-day Internationals.
WEST INDIES 1st Innings 234
(M. Samuels 65; Mohammad Shami 4-71)
INDIA 1st Innings
(overnight 37 without loss)
S. Dhawan b Shillingford 23
M. Vijay st Ramdin b Shillingford 26
C. Pujara c wkpr Ramdin b Cottrell 17
S. Tendulkar lbw b Shillingford 10
V. Kohli c Powell b Shillingford 3
R. Sharma not out 127
*+M.S. Dhoni c wkpr Ramdin b Best 42
R. Ashwin not out 92
Extras (b4, lb8, w1, nb1) 14
TOTAL (6 wkts) 354
B. Kumar, Mohammad Shami, P. Ojha to bat
Fall of wickets: 1-42 (Dhawan), 2-57 (Vijay), 3-79 (Pujara), 4-82 (Tendulkar), 5-83 (Kohli), 6-156 (Dhoni)
Bowling: Best 14-0-53-1; Cottrell 15-3-53-1 (w1); Shillingford 41-8-130-4 (nb1); Permaul 20-1-54-0; Sammy 12-1-52-0
Position: India lead by 120 runs with four first innings wickets standing
Umpires: R. Kettleborough (England), N. Llong (England)
TV umpire: V. Kulkarni (India)
Match referee: A. Pycroft (Zimbabwe)
Reserve umpire: S. Das (India)