Cricket

India vs South Africa | Rohit makes dream debut as Test opener before rain washes out final session

Rohit Sharma celebrates after scoring a century during the first day of the first Test between India and South Africa at Visakhapatnam, October 2, 2019.

Rohit Sharma celebrates after scoring a century during the first day of the first Test between India and South Africa at Visakhapatnam, October 2, 2019.   | Photo Credit: K.R. DEEPAK

Rohit makes an unbeaten 115, Mayank Agarwal was unbeaten on 84 as India ended day 1 at 202 for no loss

There is a maturity about Rohit Sharma these days that reflects a calmness of mind. And when this happens, the muscles are relaxed, the feet move freely and the focus is fierce.

Rohit had a lot riding on his innings on the opening day of the first Freedom Test here on Wednesday. The team-management had backed him for the Test opener’s slot and he had to justify the faith.

Resolute Mayank

Rohit responded with an unbeaten 115 of sunshine on a day of cloud cover and rain. Giving him support was a resolute Mayank Agarwal, batting on 84.

India was on a strong 202 for no loss shortly before tea at the ACA-VDCA Stadium before a goodly crowd when a sharp spell of rain ended play for the day. For the beleaguered South Africans, this was a reprieve.

India’s latest opening Test pair survived a testing early phase when Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander were a threat. There was some seam movement as well and both Rohit and Mayank were beaten.

Cautious start

Rohit, rightly, was circumspect at the start after Virat Kohli elected to bat. Once he found his timing, he was a different proposition.

Rabada was square-driven, and when Philander provided some width outside off, he was put away ruthlessly.

Rohit’s bat-speed is his strength. When he combines this with nifty footwork and a still head, the bowlers are up against it in Indian conditions.

After 15 innings in 10 Tests [both unfinished] Rohit averages a Bradmanesque 98.22 in India. These figures reveal his dominance in these conditions and struggles on foreign soil.

His innings was laced with moments of brilliance. Like when Rohit eased Philander between short cover, extra-cover and the sweeper, stroking the ball gloriously through the eye of the needle.

Given the nature of his game, the bowlers were always in with a chance. His half-century came through a top-edged sweep off debutant left-arm spinner Senuran Muthusamy, eluding a diving square-leg.

Growing in confidence

Rohit grew in confidence; Rabada was pulled and spinners Keshav Maharaj and Dale Piedt were cut or rousingly struck on the waltz between the straight-field and square-leg.

At the other end, Mayank combined a solid defence with clever strokeplay. Temperament is the lad’s strength.

Mayank, in his first Test innings in India, was fortunate early on when he attempted to whip Rabada only to see the edge rocket between third slip and gully.

But the right-hander also essayed some compelling strokes. A cover-drive off Rabada screamed for attention.

Philander was off-driven with ease and fluency. An inside-out six off Maharaj over covers revealed deftness of feet and timing.

Mayank is a vastly different batsman from what he was about three years back. Those were the days when he had a pronounced shuffle forward, and this, consequently, affected his balance, the most crucial ingredient of batting.

He also had trouble getting on to the back foot. The committed Mayank worked on that, curbed a tendency to hit balls on the up and was able to shift his weight to the rear foot. His rather elaborate back-lift also was now straighter.

Mentally stronger

Mayank became a lot tighter on or around the off-stump and under the legendary Rahul Dravid emerged mentally stronger.

For South Africa, the lion-hearted Rabada operated with some speed and venom, but received little help from the pitch. Philander, a lesser force once the ball lost its shine, was accurate but could not extract deviation after the initial overs.

Leader of the spin pack, Maharaj, was quicker through the air but there was not enough bite or turn in his bowling. Off-spinner Piedt, who doesn’t quite get his body into his action, failed to impress.

Perhaps, South Africa should have included an additional paceman in Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje for a third spinner and played to its strength irrespective of the surface.

The signs are ominous for the visitor.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 8:08:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/india-vs-south-africa-first-test-first-day-report-visakhapatnam/article29574906.ece

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