With a swift leg-break, Kagiso Rabada got to beat Rohit Sharma's defence in his first ball on Saturday morning. On a good-length delivery placed just outside off, Rohit had leaned in for push, but the ball moved away, beating the willow by a distance. Just like in Visakhapatnam and in Pune, the conditions in the opening session of the third Test, in Ranchi, offered a slight lateral movement. Rohit left the exact similar delivery that followed next. And that was followed by a stifled lbw appeal when a nipbacker just turned in sharply to thud into his thigh. A delivery later, Rohit was left befuddled with his footwork against an outswinger that carried an extra bounce. He was only lucky to not have given an edge after falling to the bait.
Rabada looked fiery with the shiny white as he made the new ball do all the talking on the Ranchi surface that did have something in offer for the seamers. Rohit was beaten four times and suffered two lbw scares in Rabada’s first spell in Ranchi.
The youngster had set the tone bowling good length deliveries and extracting movement off the surface and also took two early wickets in that process - Mayank Agarwal (10) and Cheteshwar Pujara (0). To be precise, Rabada did what he had not done in the two previous Tests. He had steered clear of the short of a good length deliveries that South African pacers are known for. 71 per cent of his deliveries in the first spell were all good length and 14 per cent were full as against 42 per cent and 56 per cent good length deliveries in Vizag and Pune respectively. Rabada ended his first spell with figures of 7-4-15-2 where Rohit managed only five runs off 21 deliveries.
Rabada's second spell, post-lunch, looked 4-0-30-0. He was impressively undone by Ajinkya Rahane who managed three boundaries (including an edge down to the third-man region) off his first over in the afternoon session and struck two more off the second over. But Rabada was devastating against Rohit, troubling him with leg cutters ripping away from the batsman. Rohit edged or missed four times in nine deliveries in that spell while luckily managing a boundary off the outside edge as the ball carried well past Faf du Plessis at second slip to blaze away to the third-man fence.
On any other day, probably with a little more of South African conditions, Rabada could have got Rohit out. But Rohit had a bit of luck with him on Saturday besides put forth everything with his willow to counter the lateral movement offered by Rabada. He played close to his body and did not follow the movement with his hands. And when Rabada was done with his second spell, Rohit had notched up his third fifty-plus score in the series, coming off 89 deliveries.
In between the two spells, Rohit lit up Ranchi with his usual flamboyant stroke-play. He pulled Lungi Ngidi twice off the leg side region and flicked one uppishly over mid-wicket while lining up Anrich Nortje for a top-edge six over fine leg. And after taking down the pacers, Rohit destructed Dane Piedt, once again, scoring 29 off 21 deliveries which included a massive six over long-off to bring up his third century in the series and sixth in his career. Overall, he struck 11 sixes against the off-spinner in the series, the most for a batsman against a single bowler in a Test series.
By the time bad light followed by rain had forced the umpires to call for early stumps, Rohit scored 117 of 164 deliveries with a control percentage of 83.54. It was a gritty knock, and hence a crafty century from Rohit who overcame the artful deliveries form Rabada (with a control percentage of 68.57), but soared high against the loose balls to get to the big mark.
"He's such an experienced player. You don't have to do anything with his technique. The only adjustment he had to do was with his game plans. In Test cricket, you need to play through those tough spells that you will get. And I think he's doing really well in this series. He needed to make that mental adjustment to his game plans," said Vikram Rathour, India's batting coach, at the end of day's play.