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India vs South Africa | Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane Put India in Control With Out-of-Norm Approaches

A new opener in Test cricket, Rohit had already scored two hundreds in the series.

Karthik Lakshmanan |October 19, 2019, 5:51 PM IST
India vs South Africa | Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane Put India in Control With Out-of-Norm Approaches

It was a day of slightly out-of-the-norm batting for Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, which led to the duo reviving India with an unbroken 185-run stand on the first day of the third Test against South Africa in Ranchi.

India were struggling at 39 for 3 when the two Mumbai batsmen got together, with South Africa's pacers in the midst of sharp spells. Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli had all fallen cheaply, with Kagiso Rabada picking two and Anrich Nortje one. One more there, and South Africa wouldn't have felt too bad about losing the toss, which they managed despite having a toss proxy in Temba Bavuma.

A new opener in Test cricket, Rohit had already scored two hundreds in the series. He added one more, ending the day on 117 not out to become only the second Indian after Sunil Gavaskar to score three hundreds in a Test series. Rahane remained unbeaten on 83, not too far from another Test century himself.

Of all his six Test centuries, it's perhaps this knock that would have given Rohit maximum confidence. It's this knock that could make him believe he belongs in the new role too; the twin centuries in Visakhapatnam were utter dominance, showing Rohit can destroy attacks. This one was measured, and yet destructive with promise of plenty more.

At the end of the day, Rohit was on 117 off 164 balls, with 14 fours and four sixes. That doesn't exactly show how hard he had to work to earn his runs, especially in the initial phase. Rabada was breathing fire, continuing his improvement from the first Test. Along with Ngidi, he beat Rohit multiple times even as he got Agarwal and Pujara at the other end.

With the pacers in full swing, Rohit took 37 balls to get to double-digits. He played and missed, and even tried to counter-attack in vain. His first boundary was through an outside edge. His second was off the glove when he tried to pull a short ball.

But Rohit didn't give it away, fighting his way through. Unlike in Visakhapatnam, when he had big partnerships with Agarwal and Pujara in the two innings, the match situation called on him to be more watchful too. Rohit did just that.

Rohit's white-ball career shows that he can make up for lost time if he manages to settle in. That was on show in this red-ball knock too. After the slow start, he gradually kicked on to bring up his half-century in 86 balls. And then came the blast, as he smashed the spinners around the park to get to his century off only 130 balls.

Much of that was thanks to the way Rahane began. Rahane usually takes his time in Test cricket in India; he is an unusual batsman who has more success away than at home. Rahane's average and strike-rate at home are lesser than his overseas numbers. He's the kind of batsman who loves the ball to come on to the bat, which isn't often the case in India.

Rahane showed he can be versatile too. In the previous match in Pune, he had fought his way for 59 off 168 balls, not scoring off his first 30 balls against spin. He was in a different zone this time, happy to play his shots - all controlled - to put the pressure back on South Africa. Rahane got his fastest half-century in India, getting there in 70 balls before ending the day on 83 off 135.

It was Rahane's charge in the post-lunch session that set the tone. India made 71/3 in 23 overs in the first session. Session 2 produced 134 runs without loss in 29 overs.

South Africa went with the in-form Rabada but Rahane began with three fours in the second over of the session. He hit Rabada for two more boundaries in the short spell, which cost South Africa big. Rabada's first spell read 11-4-45-2. His second spell read 4-0-30-0.

Rohit's presence helped Rahane's pace too. It means Faf du Plessis had no confidence to toss the ball to Dane Piedt, as Rohit had already smashed him around in the first game. The only other spinner was a debutant, George Linde, who struggled for control. Both Rohit and Rahane put every bad ball away. Every time the pacers were full and straight, Rohit flicked for four. Short balls were pulled away too, as Rohit got 70 runs through the leg-side.

By the time du Plessis brought in Piedt, Rohit was well set. And what does a well set Rohit do to off-spinners? Smash three sixes and reach a ton. There was a time when bad light threatened to hold Rohit back in the 90s, but he beat it with a six to get to the landmark. He was in such a zone.

Rahane too joined the party, hitting Piedt for a six down the ground. The fun was disrupted by bad light, and looks set to resume on the second day.

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