Rohit Sharma announced his arrival as a Test opener in some style as he smashed a free-flowing century to put India on a commanding position before rain made its presence felt on the opening day of the first encounter against South Africa in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday (October 2).
The 32-year-old crafted 12 fours and five sixes in his fourth Test century as he along with Mayank Agarwal demolished South Africa’s spirit on the very first day of the three-match series. The home team didn’t lose a single wicket as they were 202 without loss in 59.1 overs before it started pouring down on the stroke of tea and the day’s play had to be called off.
Rohit was unbeaten on 115 with Agarwal, who remained not out on 84, as the two became the third Indian opening pair after Rahul Dravid-Virender Sehwag and Shikhar Dhawan-M Vijay to put on a 200-run partnership in their maiden innings.
Asked to bowl, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander found some movement early in the innings but both Rohit and Agarwal did well to negotiate the threat before stamping their authority over South African spinners. The Proteas have opted to go with three spinners - Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt and debutant Senuran Muthusamy - but not one of them could create any pressure on these two batsmen.
All eyes were expectedly on Rohit whose stop-start Test career has taken a new direction with the management accommodating him at the top of the order. The right-hander opened his account by slicing Rabada past backward point and didn’t look back from thereon.
Rohit and Philander’s battle in the first hour was absorbing. Philander, who got the better of Rohit in the warm-up game, challenged Rohit by moving the ball both ways in his opening spell of four overs. Rohit countered the movement by standing outside the crease which forced wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock to stand up to the stumps.
After getting the measure of the surface, Rohit went for his strokes like he does in white-ball cricket. His first big hit was a typical one as he gently stepped out of the crease to smash Maharaj over long-on. A little later, he played a similar shot off Piedt. He completed his fifty with an unconvincing sweep towards the end of the first session as Rohit and Agarwal walked out for lunch with 91 runs on the board.
While South African bowlers did trouble the Indian batsmen on a few occasions in the first session, they seemed toothless in the afternoon session where Rohit and Agarwal started playing more freely. While all the focus was on Rohit, Agarwal too went about his business quietly. The right-hander from Karnataka played some gorgeous drives including a six over extra cover off Maharaj’s bowling to bring up his fourth Test fifty.
Meanwhile, Rohit kept playing his shots from the other end, slamming Piedt for successive sixes over deep midwicket to get into the nineties before completing his ton with a single off Muthusamy, making him the fourth Indian to score a century in his maiden innings as an opener.
At the other end, Agarwal too was cruising towards his maiden Test hundred before the rain decided to play spoilsport.