Rohit, Rahane to the rescue

India's Rohit Sharma pulls one to the boundary during his unbeaten century against South Africa on Saturday. AFP

On Saturday, at the JSCA International Stadium Complex here, South Africa welcomed the first session with a difference. The first two Tests of the Freedom Series saw the visitors searching for answers against the Indian top-order. However, the first hour of the third and final Test witnessed a South African performance that not many saw it coming.

Blending confidence with attack, Faf du Plessis’ men, asked to bowl, mounted pressure on the hosts. At 39/3, India sought a steadier footing through Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. It was a period when finally in the series, Kagiso Rabada (2/54) was bowling like he is known for. The overcast conditions increased the right-arm pacer’s fear factor.

The Indian duo, focused on their sensible game plan, made sure normalcy was restored. Rohit (117 n.o., 164b, 14x4, 4x6) and Rahane (83 n.o., 135b, 11x4, 1x6) not only survived the initial scare but flourished as the day progressed to help India to finish strongly at 224/3 in 58 after bad light, followed by rain, ended proceedings early.

For the first time in the series, Virat Kohli (12) was called for duty within the first ten overs and that told the story. Rabada, moving the ball both ways, had reduced India to 16/2. The world’s second-ranked Test bowler drew Mayank Agarwal (10) in front and induced an edge to second slip.

He soon trapped Cheteshwar Pujara (0) plumb in front with a ball that nipped back in. The on-field umpire surprisingly dismissed the vociferous appeal from the South Africans but the visitors rightly reviewed and got their second wicket.

Lungi Ngidi, coming in for Vernon Philander, wasn’t impactful but it was Anrich Nortje, carrying only the experience of his debut Test in Pune, who bagged the big fish. The right-arm pacer set Kohli up with two balls that shaped away and fired in a brilliant ball that came back in sharply and crashed the Indian skipper’s pads. Kohli failed once again with the DRS – his ninth in a row – and walked back agitated as umpire’s call halted his stay.

The three early dismissals put the spotlight on Rohit. As an opener, he had the ticked the box of making runs with two hundreds in the first Test. Now was the time for him to be an opener with immense patience. To India’s advantage, Rohit came through with flying colours.

It didn’t bother him that his first four came after 22 balls. The menacing show from Rabada slightly shook him. The Proteas pacer thought he had got him leg before wicket but India’s review showed a thick inside edge from Rohit’s blade. South Africa nearly got him run out. Zubayr Hamza at short-leg dropped a tough one off debutant left-arm spinner George Linde.

Rohit’s fortitude bore fruit once he got his eye in. With Rabada out of the attack, he took on Nortje and Ngidi. He pulled Ngidi for four and flicked him for another boundary to break the shackles. He then effortlessly pulled Nortje for a six and headed for lunch looking ominous.

A minor hostile spell from Rabada put a check on Rohit’s charge but once the spinners were introduced, the 32-year-old scored sixes for fun. Dane Piedt, the rookie right-arm off-spinner, bore the brunt of Rohit’s fury. After smashing a six over his head, Rohit struck another big one over long-on off Piedt and then brought up his sixth Test century with a six over wide long-off.

India, who were untroubled in the second session and scored at a handsome rate of 4.62 runs an over, owe a lot to Rahane too. The vice-captain batted with great intent and cruised to a 70-ball half-century with the help of eight fours. Rahane’s shots of pure timing were a delight to watch as he fetched boundaries even of good deliveries. The two batsmen have now given India the perfect platform to post a big total and the hosts wouldn’t want rain to play spoilsport on Sunday. 

 

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