India vs South Africa 1st Test: Ton-up Rohit Sharma shines before rain washes out final session of opening day

India vs South Africa: For all his ODI swag that he got to replicate against the Proteas spinners, Rohit Sharma’s century too came off a tweaker in Senuran Muthusamy.
Visakhapatnam: India's Rohit Sharma being greeted by partner Mayank Agarwal as he celebrates his century(PTI)
Visakhapatnam: India's Rohit Sharma being greeted by partner Mayank Agarwal as he celebrates his century(PTI)
Updated on Oct 03, 2019 07:21 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Visakhapatnam | By

Rohit Sharma cut a lonely figure in the dying minutes of India’s practice session two days ahead of the first Test against South Africa. He took a stroll near the square boundary while some of his teammates were still on with their slip catching drill. Before that he had toiled for the longest time among his peers at the nets – first facing the pacers, then the spinners and lastly throw-down specialist Raghavendraa.

Also Read: India vs South Africa 1st Test, Day 1 Highlights: As it happened

Only a couple of days earlier in a warmup match, he had nicked one from Vernon Philander to wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen. For all the buzz around his fresh start as a Test opener, Rohit’s dismissal for a duck raised more doubts than hope. Perhaps, the 32-year-old too felt the same as he walked alone at the ACA-VDCA Stadium here ahead of the real battle. Perhaps, that long net session and that time with own self was all about visualising the perfect shots for a perfect revival of his Test career.

And yet when he took the field on Wednesday, after Virat Kohli opted to bat, more than middling the ball it was the way he left them that stood out in Rohit’s first foray as opener. He looked aware of the presence of Philander and Kagiso Rabada in the rival ranks (both have dismissed him thrice each) and their abilities with the new ball in the first hour. He also seemed to understand that the pitch here would get easy as the day progresses. Such insight is expected of an experienced campaigner like Rohit, but its application is not always easy. Had that been the case, Rohit would not have been fighting to lift his stop-start Test career despite being a giant in ODI cricket.

Also Read: Rohit Sharma on a par with Donald Bradman- As things stand

So, here he was patient yet confident. He took his time and showed respect to the opposition until the South African spinners came in. Once that happened, Rohit came into his elements and went on to score a century in his first match as a Test opener. Had rain not eaten into more than a session of play, Rohit (115*) and fellow opener Mayank Agarwal (84*) would have taken the hosts into a more comfortable position. At stumps on Day 1, India were placed at 202 for no loss.

“It’s more about fighting the inner battle,” VVS Laxman said while commentating on Day 1. He would know. Like Rohit, he too was pushed to open the innings despite middle-order being his preferred choice. Laxman failed but Rohit did not.

While Philander and Rabada got to move the ball both ways in the first half an hour, there was the odd ball when Rohit looked uncertain about negating the swing. But those threats were exceptions. His patience showed as he was more intent on sapping the pacers’ energy by letting the ball go. He even took stance outside the crease to nip Philander’s swing in the bud. This was Test cricket and Rohit was in no hurry.

In fact, when Agarwal looked the more assured of the two in his forward defence, Rohit did not mind in playing the second fiddle. He first scored off a boundary against Rabada and then followed it with another off Philander but that was just about it. By the time left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj came to bowl in the ninth over, both Indian openers were comfortably placed.

Also Read: Gavaskar expresses displeasure about Team India’s selection policy

SA captain Faf du Plessis mixed spin with pace but by then the pitch had nothing to offer to their bowlers. With a humid climate, the chances of the ball swinging too became less.

This South African has two specialist spinners in Maharaj and Dane Peidt while debutant Senuran Muthusamy is a spin-allrounder too. The Proteas spinners tried to lure the Indian openers for the sweep and get caught but Rohit-Agarwal combination did not budge. Not a single delivery from the spinners nipped past the edge and the Indian pair made merry.

With the Visakhapatnam sun shining bright and the spinners getting little turn, Rohit went about his usual stuff by going down the track and lofting the bowler over the long on or long off. By the time the first session had ended Rohit was already in full flow as he reached his half-century.

At the start of the second session, du Plessis tried to pump in some excitement by using the first slip against both openers but by then both Rohit and Agarwal had firmly set in. Rohit survived an LBW appeal too from Rabada when he played the wrong line off a length ball, but he was unperturbed.

As the second session progressed, du Plessis removed the close-in fielders and the task got even easier for the Indian batsmen. They put on a 100-run stand in the 36th over while Agarwal reached the half-century mark in the next over with a six at extra cover off Maharaj.

From there on it was total control by the Indian openers. They especially went after Piedt as he gave away 43 runs in seven overs.

Also Read: Sachin Tendulkar weighs in on what it takes to be a Test opener

For all his ODI swag that he got to replicate against the Proteas spinners, Rohit’s century too came off a tweaker in Muthusamy. Realising the dire strait that his side was progressing into, du Plessis brought back Philander into the attack. Rohit responded by opening the face of the bat as the ball went past gully. He followed it with another at cover. Rohit was now dictating terms. But bad light forced early tea and then rain followed.

However, Rohit was not complaining. “I think it (opening) suits my game, just wear the pads and bat. (In the) waiting game, when I used to bat at number five or six number, I won’t say it didn’t suit my batting. But in opening tour mind is fresh. You know you have to play the new ball. You know what the bowlers will do with the new ball. At no. six, the ball is reversing, field placement is different and you need to keep all those things in mind,” he said.


    Abhishek Paul works with the Hindustan Times’ sports desk. He has been covering the beat since 2010 across print and digital mediums.

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