Stumps India 224 for 3 (Rohit 117*, Rahane 83*, Rabada 2-54, Nortje 1-50) v South Africa
It started so promisingly even though South Africa lost their tenth straight toss in the subcontinent. New coin tosser Temba Bavuma called wrong, and South Africa, with five changes, had to bowl first, again. But for a while, the lost spark was back under cloudy skies. Kagiso Rabada’s new-ball spell brought two wickets, Lungi Ngidi kept the pressure on and Anrich Nortje claimed a dream maiden scalp in Virat Kohli. Then, they ran in to Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, and by the time bad light brought play to an early end in Ranchi, it was an advantage India again.
Rohit broke records, including the most sixes hit by a batsman in a Test series (17) and the most struck this year. This is remarkable considering he has only played four Test innings, 12 fewer than nearest rival Ben Stokes. He also shared in the highest fourth-wicket stand for India against South Africa with Ajinkya Rahane, who scored his fastest half-century at home. Their partnerships stands at 185, with the promise of much more on the second day.
Their dominance was built on Rohit’s patient start, as he weathered the early Rabada storm and then cashed in against spin, Dane Piedt in particular. He scored 29 off the 21 balls he faced from the offspinner, including a big hit for six over long-off to bring up his third century of the series and sixth overall. In total, Rohit has so far hit 11 sixes off Piedt in this series, the most for any batsman against a single bowler in a series.
Piedt was not used until after the lunch break, with captain Faf du Plessis relying on long first spells from his quicks to try and make early inroads. The plan worked. Rabada, who adjusted his length from mostly short of a good length to good length, asked the toughest questions. With some swing on offer and a hungry slip cordon waiting, Rabada forced India’s openers to play and toyed with them by beating the bat several times.
Mayank Agarwal prodded at a few and was then drawn forward by a delivery that swung away as he nicked to Dean Elgar, who took a low catch at third slip. Two overs later, Rabada had Cheteshwar Pujara playing outside the line of an inducker that hit him on the back pad. South Africa reviewed and Pujara was out lbw for a duck. Rabada’s opening spell of seven overs brought him returns of 2 for 15.
At the other end Nortje tricked Virat Kohli with two deliveries that nipped away, the second one in particular inducing a loose drive outside off. Then he brought one back in and hit Kohli’s front pad as he played for the one that holds its line, only to be given out immediately. Kohli reviewed but it came back as umpire’s call. South Africa were all over India, who were 39 for 3.
The only sight of spin in the morning session came when debutant George Linde was given the penultimate over, and things could’ve panned out so differently if the chance he created with his third ball had stuck. Rohit, on 28, worked one to short leg where Zubayr Hamza, crouching low, put it down on the move. The rest, as they say….
Rohit took his time, but opened up after lunch. He latched on to the first hint of a short ball from Linde, but continued to give Rabada the respect he deserved, as he tested him with his variations, including the leg-cutter. While this played out, Rahane took on Rabada and flicked him disdainfully every time he erred in line – and there were plenty of occasions. His second spell of four overs went for 30 and the momentum shifted India’s way. Rohit’s fifty came up off 86 balls, but he used 55 of them to get his first 23 runs. The tempo of innings changed dramatically and it took him just 31 balls to score the next 29.
Rahane continued to help himself against spin, but it as Rohit tho feasted on spin. With Piedt leaking runs, South Africa had a poor second session. They conceded 134 runs at a rate of 4.62 to the over between lunch and tea and could not put any plans in place to contain Rohit or Rahane. Only six overs were bowled in the third session before bad light brought an early end to play, leaving Rahane 17 runs away from his first century at home since 2016. Rohit, meanwhile, is now the first Indian opener since Sunil Gavaskar in 1978 to score more than two centuries in a series.