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India- England Series

Sharma says 'fun' to have crowds back after dazzling ton





Photo: AFP

|| AFP ||

Rohit Sharma on Saturday paid tribute to the returning crowd after his masterful century guided India to 300 for six on day one of the second Test against England.

Sharma, welcomed with chants of "Rohit! Rohit!", hit 161 and put on a key fourth-wicket partnership of 162 with Ajinkya Rahane after India -- down 1-0 in the four-match series -- elected to bat first in Chennai.

Rishabh Pant, on 33, and Axar Patel, on five, were batting at the close of play after England's bowlers took three wickets in the final session.

Spinners Jack Leach and Moeen Ali claimed two wickets each on a pitch that offered turn even on day one.

Ali bowled skipper Virat Kohli for nought to put India in trouble at 86-3, stunning the raucous 15,000-strong home crowd -- present for the first time since the pandemic -- into silence.

But Sharma's knock restored the exuberant mood of cheering fans, all of whom backed the home team except for a brave half dozen Barmy Army soldiers. 

"It was great fun to have them at the ground. I mean it is something that livens up the whole atmosphere of the stadium," Sharma told reporters.

"When there was no one at the ground in the first Test, the intensity was slightly low from both the teams... I am happy that they witnessed some good cricket today."

His seventh Test century was his first against England. When he crossed 150 in his 36th five-day match he got a standing ovation from the ecstatic crowd.

But Leach broke through with his left-arm spin to send Sharma trudging back to the pavilion in the final session after the batsman holed out a catch to deep square leg.

Sharma, who survived a tight stumping chance -- given not out by the TV umpire -- off Leach on 159, hit 18 fours and two sixes in his 231-ball stay. 

Rahane, who hit form after scores of one and nought in the first Test, soon fell to Ali, bowled on another good delivery by the off-spinner for 67.

Skipper Joe Root chipped in with his off spin to get Ravichandran Ashwin caught at short leg by Ollie Pope.

"Ajinkya's knock was crucial to the team and so was our partnership. We had put the team in a comfortable position till tea," Sharma said.

"I believe 350 would be good score on this pitch and we still have four wickets left. We hope Pant and Axar can score big and get more runs as we know the wicket will turn more on day two, three and four."