India vs South Africa: Ton-up Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane steady hosts after wobble
Ind vs Sa: India were 224 for three before bad light, followed by rain, forced an early end to play on day one with only six overs possible in the final session.Updated: Oct 20, 2019 07:42 IST
Rohit Sharma knew it was six when the ball soared towards long-off. He stood arms spread wide, helmet in one and bat in the other, before the umpire’s hands were raised in confirmation. The Freedom Series was to be his test as opener, one which would decide whether he has the stomach for cricket’s most arduous format. The argument’s settled for now.
“He is too good a player to not play in any format. It was a good call to make him to open. If he starts coming good at the top of the order, it changes everything for the India team, even when you are touring,” said Vikram Rathour, India’s batting coach after the first day of the third Test.
In collaboration with Ajinkya Rahane, Sharma rescued India after Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje had reduced them to 39/3 dismissing Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. It could have been 60/4 had Zubayr Humza held a sharp offering from Sharma, on 28, in what was left-arm spinner George Linde’s first over in Test cricket. When play stopped six overs after tea, India were 224/3 with Sharma unbeaten on 117 and Rahane batting on 83; their fourth-wicket joint-venture 185 runs old.
Having got through the first session, Sharma brought an air of lazy elegance to his innings on Saturday, one that lit up a mostly grey day which ended in thunder, lighting and rain leading to play being called off 90 minutes before time. Surviving Rabada on either side of lunch needed perseverance of the kind that pays an opener’s bills. Rabada squared him up with one that moved away and Sharma needed a review to show he had got bat on one that had sneaked in and rapped his pads. He was on seven and India 17/2. “There was a bit of moisture in the wicket early on. Rabada is one of the better bowlers in the world and they also bowled in better areas. So Rohit had some problem early on. As a batsman, you need to survive that time which Rohit did really well,” said Rathour.
It took Sharma 24 balls for his first boundary, past point off Lungi Ngidi. But whenever South Africa bowled short, Sharma punished them. When Ngidi, Nortje and later, Rabada did, Sharma pulled; the shot produced his first six off the penultimate ball before lunch. When Linde did that, Sharma cut; one shot piercing cover in the first over after lunch. And when Dane Piedt, held back till the 38th over, was introduced, Sharma hit the off-spinner for three sixes. Sharma brought up his half-century with an off-drive off Nortje, his sixth Test ton and third of the series coming with even greater flourish off Piedt.
As partners are expected to, Rahane helped Sharma. He was the walking stick India would have been wobbly without. Rahane settled down with customary flicks and was the only player unfazed by Rabada. Rahane hit Rabada for three fours in one over after lunch, a flick and a shot past gully by opening the bat face on either side of an edge past the vacant third slip. “Whenever, Ajinkya bats with such intent, he looks a really good player,” said Rathour.
Those three fours came in the innings’ 25th over and shifted the momentum. Rabada’s first spell read 7-4-15-2, his second 4-0-30-0. Having lost the toss—South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis got Temba Bavuma to call but their luck didn’t change—Rabada took an over to settle into rhythm. He took two boundaries in his stride and was vindicated in his plan to probe Mayank Agarwal outside the off-stump when he moved one away and Dean Elgar at third slip held a low catch.
By then, one delivery in Lungi Ngidi’s second over had kept low from the MS Dhoni Pavilion end, something that would be repeated from the other side in the 33rd and 37th overs, both bowled by Linde.
Then, a Rabada delivery had Pujara and umpire Richard Illingworth getting it wrong; the batsman not expecting it to come in and the umpire thinking it would have missed the wicket. From second slip, Du Plessis sought a review and Pujara went. All fire and brimstone and known to get under a batsman’s skin—ask David Warner—Rabada greeted Kohli with a bouncer. It could have been better directed but with three slips and a gully, the gauntlet had been thrown.
Like Pujara, Kohli too fell to an incoming delivery giving Nortje his first Test wicket. Mumbai mates Rahane and Sharma rebuilt the innings and shifted gears as conditions for batting improved. The first 50 runs came in 19.2 overs, the 100 in 28.1, 150 in 39.4 and by the time the scoreboard showed 200 in the 49th over, a promising day had gone pear-shaped for the Proteas. “The recovery was phenomenal. Post-lunch, the wicket also eased a bit. We should capitalise on this,” said Rathour.
South Africa made five changes bringing in Hamza, Heinrich Klassen—the debutant also kept wickets—Linde, Ngidi and Piedt and set attacking fields. Du Plessis baited Rahane with a short mid-off and a short mid-on but the only time he didn’t follow through on the drive, the ball arrowed over Sharma. The attacking field left gaps which Sharma and Rahane picked and loose balls were given the treatment. By the end of the second session, India had moved from 71/3 at lunch to 205/3. With Jharkhand’s left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem being the third player from the state after Dhoni and Varun Aaron to play Tests, India are banking on slower bowlers. The Proteas will need luck and pluck in equal measure to ensure that this isn’t more of the same.