Kolkata: Rohit Sharma stamped his class by hitting a sparkling century on debut as India recovered from a top-order collapse to take a firm grip of the first Test against the West Indies with a 120-run first-innings lead here on Thursday. (Match Scorecard | Highlights)
Sharma stole the thunder with his unbeaten 127 as the hosts, who were precariously placed at 83 for five at one stage, reached a comfortable 354 for six at close on an eventful second day's play.
Ravichandran Ashwin was the other batting hero of the day as he remained unbeaten on 92 as he combined with Sharma to pull India out of trouble. Sharma became the 14th Indian to score a century on debut.
With retiring legend Sachin Tendulkar being given out in a contentious manner in his penultimate match, the in-form Sharma along with Ashwin added 198 runs for the seventh wicket to almost bat the visiting side out of the match on a tricky Eden Gardens strip.
Handed the Test cap by Tendulkar after his Man-of-the Series performance in the recently-concluded ODI series against Australia, Sharma struck 16 fours and one six while facing 228 balls. (Also read: Sachin fan SRK likely to attend Eden Test)
The 26-year-old Mumbai right-hander was playing in his maiden Test three years and nine months after playing his first ODI.
Ashwin played the perfect foil as the offspinner made invaluable runs in their match-turning partnership that helped India get past the West Indies first innings score of 234.
On a pitch that has started to crumble, the match is tilted in favour of India, who will be looking to seal the issue without needing to play on the final day.
For the elegant Mumbai batsman, who was assured of a Test debut on the morning of February 6, 2010 against South Africa before a freak collision with Wriddhiman Saha dashed his hopes, it was perseverance that paid off.
Having come after the unlucky dismissal of Tendulkar, Sharma showed amazing resillience.
As wickets started to tumble with Shane Shillingford (4/130) reducing the hosts to 83/5 in the first session, it was left to Sharma and Ashwin to do the recovery act.
Sharma got to the century in style, gliding one past between first slip and gully. And, the ones bowled by Sheldon Cottrell, just before and immediately after the batsman got to the three-figure mark, were also spanked for fours on either side of the turf.
Sharma, who had amassed 491 runs including a double hundred at an average of 122.75 in the Australia ODI series, remained composed as he initially rebuilt the innings with Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (42).
Barring Tendulkar, who got out to a dubious lbw decision by English umpire Nigel Llong, the frontline Indian batsmen Shikhar Dhawan (23), Murali Vijay (26), Cheteshwar Pujara (17) and Virat Kohli (3) were lacking in temperament.
But Sharma showed temperament and excellent technique, and lived up to the challenge.
Dhawan (187) was the last Indian to score a century on debut against Australia in March.
Sharma walked out to the centre in the middle of an intense first session's play when the Eden crowd's emotions were punctured with the dismissal of Tendulkar after a 41-minute outing.
Getting into the groove with two boundaries off Shillingford, Tendulkar would be cursing his luck for being given out to a doosra that seemed to be going over the stumps.
The ball did all the talking for Shillingford as WI had Sharma and Virat Kohli heavily-guarded. Kohli became the offspinner's fourth victim.
India's backbone was broken after they lost three wickets -- Pujara, Tendulkar and Kohli as the hosts were tottering at 120/5 at lunch.
The first new ball deteriorated after 51 balls and had to be replaced, giving WI a ray of hope.
Like last day, the ball-change did the trick as Dhoni was dismissed immediately by Tino Best, breaking a promising 73-run sixth-wicket partnership.
However, Sharma's resolute innings proved to be the difference as India did not have a West Indies-like collapse.
The buzz around Tendulkar's dismissal, in fact, helped Sharma go about his rask quietly, while Ashwin attacked. Sharma hit a boundary in the first over after tea to level scores with the West Indies and there was no looking back after that.
The absence of a second frontline spinner hurt the West Indies cause badly even as they showed promise in Shillingford.
Sharma had a some trouble with uneven bounce and when the ball stayed low on the slow turner, but the West Indies had little option in their spin armoury.
Besides technique and temperament, Sharma's innings had its fair share of flair. He was flawless and built his knock brick by brick.
Ashwin, at the other end, was all aggression as he attacked the spinners, particularly rookie Veerasammy Permaul, to complete his fourth Test fifty from 71 balls. He punched one through cover to get to the mark.
Sharma, too, got into the groove as he danced out of the crease to hit Shillingford over midwicket for the first six of the innings and in the next over of the offie, he went into his nineties with a silken cut to the fence.
Getting into the nineties however was not a nervous affair for the Mumbaikar, who he hit leftarm pacer Cottrell, also a debutant, for three consecutive boundaries to become the 98th batsman overall to score a century on debut.
Earlier, it was a heartache for the Eden crowd as Tendulkar was dismissed cheaply for 10.
Just 39 minutes into the day, with the Eden still half-filled, Tendulkar was forced to come in after the top-order crumbled thanks to lack of application.