Rohit Sharma had done enough in the first innings to rest India’s search for a Test opener for the time being. His performance in the second innings demonstrated exactly why he being a success as an opener would provide a different dimension to India’s Test team.
On a day that required India to score at a brisk pace, Rohit maintained the tempo of his innings throughout the day to become the first Indian opener to register two centuries in the same Test since Sunil Gavaskar did the same against West Indies in 1978. He is also the first-ever Test player who achieved this feat while opening for the very first time.
If an initial burst from the South African bowlers tested Rohit a little in the first innings, during the second innings he was able to control even the odd balls that misbehaved from the pitch. Playing at strike-rate of 85.23, Rohit hit ten fours and seven languid sixes. With 13 sixes in the match, he has also overtaken Wasim Akram’s record of most sixes in a Test (12).
While Rohit was at ease at the crease, the innings of Cheteshwar Pujara, his partner for the better half of the day, was a tale of two halves. With two phases of no runs for 17 and 21 consecutive balls, Pujara found himself at eight runs of 62 balls at around the 28th over mark of the Indian innings.
Looking anxious to get a move on, Pujara offered two chances during this period, one faint nick to Quinton de Kock and the other a tough chance to Aiden Markram at forward short leg. After offering a third chance in the 28th over when De Kock failed to collect a faint inside-edge off him, missing a catch and a stumping in the process, the composition of his innings changed. He whipped the next one to a four and then hit back-to-back boundaries in the next two over he faced. The boundaries of Keshav Maharaj were executed with a serenity that looked improbable from Pujara today. Once he hit Dane Piedt for a six over mid-wicket, the Pujara of old was forgotten.
After a drought for the first 62 balls, Pujara scored his next 73 runs in 86 balls and was neck-to-neck with Rohit during their partnership of 169 runs for the second wicket. Such was a shift in the tempo that after scoring only 29 runs in the first 13 overs after lunch, the duo added 111 in the next 21 overs.
Pujara offered two more chances later as he nicked back-to-back balls from Kagiso Rabada in the vacant region of keeper and second slip. Rohit also had the only anxious moment of his innings when a lofted a shot by him was caught at long-on by Senuran Muthusamy only to find his foot land on the boundary cushion on the replay.
Post tea, Vernon Philander, similar to the first innings, caught Pujara in front of the wickets by a leg cutter. Rohit continued to dominate the bowlers to bring up his fifth Test ton. As expected, he has particularly severe after reaching the hundred. He hit Piedt for three consecutive sixes to break Akram’s record. In an attempt to hit Maharaj with the turn, Rohit was stumped for the second time in his first-class career, both occasions occurring in the same match.
To boost the run-rate, India promoted Ravindra Jadeja to four and he contributed with a 32-ball 40. A session of complete dominance by India saw them score 148 runs in 19 overs at 7.78 RPO post-tea. Before declaring at a lead of 394, Virat Kohli, in at five, scored 27* off 24 balls and Ajinkya Rahane, in at six, looked a completely different batsman as he attacked to add 26* off 16 balls. A six over covers off Maharaj by Rahane was as good a shot as any played in this match.
Chasing 395, Ravindra Jadeja trapped the South Africa opener and the centurion from the first innings – Dean Elgar. After an animated review, he was given out on the television replay. In a tricky period of nine overs before bad light stopped play, the South African batsmen scrapped off 11 runs.
Earlier in the day, Ravichandran Ashwin finished with a seven-for as he first had Maharaj caught at long-on and then trapped Rabada in front. Rabada and Muthusamy frustrated India as they added 35-runs for the last wicket in a partnership that was filled with some sumptuous boundaries. A constant rotation of bowlers exemplified the impatience on the behalf of India’s leadership in a 13.2 over period. In a hard to digest decision, Mohammed Shami, who had a mediocre first day, was taken off after just three overs during which he looked in a good rhythm and close to picking a wicket.
Before lunch, India lost Mayank Agarwal early as he edged one to Faf du Plessis at first slip off Maharaj who looked better in the second innings. He bowled slower and with a seam that pointing towards slip rather than point like in the first innings. All the improvement was to come down hurting for Maharaj later in the day as he broke his own record of conceding most runs in a Test for South Africa (318 in the match, 283 previously against Sri Lanka at SSC in 2018).
While Rohit and co have put India in a dominating position, the pitch is still quite good for batting. With an average 5.5 wickets falling on this pitch up until now, the Indian bowlers will need to be at their absolute best to ensure a result here. For South Africa, they will expect Du Plessis to pull out another one of his special match-saving innings.