India vs SA: Rohit passes first opening test

India’s newest Test opener Rohit Sharma is a picture of poise after reaching his century against South Africa on the opening day of the first Test in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. AFP

Rohit Sharma passed his first examination as a Test opener with flying colours while Mayank Agarwal continued to give a good account of his fine talent as India completely dominated the opening day proceedings of the first Test against South Africa here on Wednesday.

Extending his sizzling limited-overs form to Tests, a format he has often struggled in in the past, Rohit slammed an easy-on-the-eye 115 not out (174b, 12x4, 5x6) to steer India to 202 for no loss in 59.1 overs when heavy rain stalled his and India’s march just before tea. With rain not relenting, umpires called off play at 3:30 pm with Agarwal batting on 84 (183b, 11x4, 2x6) at the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDA Stadium.

Much of the pre-series talk had revolved around promoting Rohit to the top of the order, a last roll of the dice from the team management to resurrect the gifted Mumbaikar’s stop-start Test career. It was a gamble fraught with risk considering Rohit’s vulnerability against the moving red-ball.

Although conditions in India are nowhere as challenging as in England where the ball darts around or South Africa where bounce, pace and movement can trouble even the best of the batsmen, it’s still tough for a natural middle-order batsman to strut out for the opening over. With pacers Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada causing lots of problems for Rohit in the past, the right-hander had his task cut out.

Rohit though took the challenge head-on, the clarity of mind that his skipper Virat Kohli spoke about on match eve clearly evident in his batting. Philander typically got the ball to move both ways, teasing and testing the technique of Rohit. The 32-year-old was up for it by stepping down the track regularly to force Philander into asking keeper Quinton de Kock to come up the stumps. Philander kept moving the ball thereafter too but Rohit handled it with surety. Kagiso Rabada bowled a tad short at the start, providing Rohit ample time to judge the direction of the ball. There were just a couple of close leaves but Rohit looked well in control of his innings.

Rohit then began to dominate the proceedings when lead spinner Keshav Maharaj was summoned. He took a few overs to study the left-arm spinner’s modus operandi and once he got a measure of things, Rohit switched to one-day mode.

Alternating brilliantly between offence and defence, he attacked Maharaj as well as his spinning partners Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthuswamy relentlessly as runs came at a fair clip. He brought up his half-century with a risky sweep off Muthuswamy just before lunch to the delight of the dressing room and a decent crowd at the stadium.

The second session also belonged to Rohit as the batsman seemed determined to make hay in the nice warm sunshine. Silken cover drives, the gorgeous back-foot punches, the caressing guides through gully and the disdainful carting of spinners into the stands, all of them flowed from his willow as he galloped to a fourth Test century in quick time.

Agarwal too deserves an equal amount of credit. The right-hander, with the best seat in house to Rohit’s wonderful exhibition of batting, didn’t get overawed by his opening partner. He constructed his innings beautifully in his own style, cautious at the beginning and then taking on the spinners who were ordinary largely. He concentrated hard too, barely playing a loose shot and should be looking to convert all the hard work into a maiden Test century on Thursday.

South Africa, looking bereft of ideas, just started to go through the motions, hoping one of them plays a rash shot or the ball misbehaves. The odd ball did but both Agarwal and Rohit tackled them effortlessly. The last hope was rain and it arrived, Proteas seemingly happy to retreat back into the comforts of dressing room.

SCORE BOARD

India (I Innings):

Agarwal (batting)84

(183b, 11x4, 2x6)

Rohit (batting)115

(174b, 12x4, 5x6)

Extras (LB-1, NB-2)3

Total (for no loss, 59.1 overs)202

Bowling: Philander 11.1-2-34-0, Rabada 13-5-35-0, Keshav Maharaj 23-4-66-0, Dane Piedt 7-1-43-0, Muthuswamy 5-0-23-0.

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