Opening for the fourth time in Test cricket, Rohit, on the back of two hundreds in the series, had another cautious start. There was enough movement and carry off the deck for the seamers. An outside edge saw the downfall of Mayank Agarwal while Cheteshwar Pujara was trapped in front by a nip backer from Rabada. After a promising start, Virat Kohli also departed.
Amidst all this, Rohit was slowly working his way through the innings. He started off slow, took his time early on but flourished once he crossed the 30-run mark. He had a few scoring opportunities before lunch and it was followed by a flurry of boundaries post-lunch. The pitch arguably got easier to bat on and none of the bowlers bowled with any sort of consistency. Rohit, on 38 while going into the lunch break, scored 79 runs in the next 96 balls. He made his way to another Test hundred by smashing Dane Piedt for a six and is unbeaten on 117 at the end of the first day’s play.
First 20 runs: 50 balls
Next 81 runs: 80 balls
Probably the most satisfying of his three hundreds so early in this new lease of life as a Test opener for Rohit Sharma. #INDvSA
— Yash Jha (@jhayash) October 19, 2019
The reason for Rohit’s success this series is that he has found the right template of constructing an innings as an opener, one that he had tried and tested with much success in limited-overs cricket. He has taken his time at the start, giving respect to bowlers and good balls. It wasn’t all fluency from the Mumbaikar and there were a lot of plays and misses but more often than not, his judgement of leaving the balls outside off stump was immaculate.
He had no troubles leaving the balls outside off stump early in his innings but scored off the same balls as he got his eye in. Opening in Test cricket is as much a game of patience and temperament as it is of technique.
To his credit, very rarely did Rohit go after balls outside off stump. He showed patience which allowed him to see through the opening burst and earned him run-scoring opportunities as bowlers strayed onto his pads. From there on, he toyed with the bowlers, his limited-overs batting prowess coming to his aid.
Another highlight of Rohit’s batting this series has been his liking for going after the spinners, especially Dane Piedt. Rohit now holds the record for most sixes by a batsman in a Test match and a Test series. 11 of his 16 sixes in the series have been off Dane Piedt’s bowling and he has an insane strike rate of over 120 against the off-spinner.
Even though Indian pitches offer enough help for the spinners, very rarely has an overseas spinner enjoyed a good outing in India. It is down to the excellent technique Indian batsmen possess against spin bowling. There is very little margin for error when bowling to them. A tad short and batsmen are quick to rock back and cut or pull and if you overpitch, they are quick to drive the ball through open spaces on both sides of the field.
Piedt, called into this tour based on his experience in 2015, has made matters worse for himself with a glaring lack of consistency. Unlike his spin bowling counterparts, he has struggled to land the ball in the right areas. An over is often rife with rank short balls and half volleys because of a bowler’s tendency to overcompensate.
On rare occasions where he has bowled with decent control, Indian batsmen have gone after him. Rohit, in particular, has shown no mercy. He has slog-swept him and hit him over the straight boundary while Pujara has pulled him over midwicket for a six. There is no left-hander in India’s top order but the way Piedt has bowled makes you wonder if it would have made any kind of difference.
Among the spinners to have bowled at least 15 overs in a Test series in India, Dane Piedt has the worst economy rate for a spinner. His 42 overs have leaked 252 runs. Nothing except a half-century with the bat has gone Piedt’s way this series. In a way, his battle with Rohit Sharma summarizes how this entire series has gone – wham-bam-slam!