There was something enduring about the whole experience of watching Virender Sehwag bat in his prime. His flashy strokeplay left a trail of destruction in its wake and those fortunate enough to watch him were less afflicted by the cares of the world. So when Rohit Sharma, who started in the middle-order in Test cricket, opened the innings on Wednesday, the 'Sehwag' parallels were never too far away.
And when he got off the mark in the second over by driving Kagiso Rabada on the up through backward point with minimal footwork and pleasant hand-eye co-ordination, the parallels became slightly more prominent. What followed only reaffirmed captain Virat Kohli's assertion that this was indeed the 'ideal' opportunity to promote the right-hander up the order. Rohit grew into confidence as the day wore on, and along with Mayank Agarwal, put India in pole position at 202/0 in 59.1 overs, before rain brought an end to the first day's play in Visakhapatnam.
Rohit Sharma's wagon wheel
Both batsmen made a circumspect start, with Rabada and Vernon Philander bowling probing channels upfront. Philander, especially, tested Rohit by moving the ball both ways, but the Mumbai batsman improvised by walking a few steps down to counter the swing.
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Wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock responded by coming up to the stumps — a very subtle battle within the war, that makes Test cricket's charm so endearing. But the soul-sucking heat and humidity meant skipper Faf du Plessis had to use his pacers in shorter bursts.
Once the spinners Keshav Maharaj and Dan Piedt were pressed into action, Rohit upped the tempo and gave a glimpse of his tangible and intangible impact as India raced to 91/0 at lunch, scoring at more than three runs an over.
Rohit reached his sixth consecutive 50-plus score at home, his first as a Test opener, in streaky fashion with a top edge past backward square for four. The audacity, the skill and the bravado of Rohit's white-ball domination came to the fore in the 20th over, when he languidly launched a length ball from Keshav Maharaj over long-on for six. Five overs later, Rohit meted out similar treatment to Dan Piedt.
India's run-rate on Day 1
The off-spinner's figures took a further pounding after lunch as Rohit gave a reminder of his ability to switch gears, galloping into the nineties with two back-to-back sixes before reaching his first 100 as a Test opener, with a single.
Rohit's singular brilliance risked overshadowing Agarwal's fluent knock at the other end, but the Karnataka right-hander ensured he matched his more experienced partner stroke for stroke with a brilliant 84 — just 16 short of what could be a first hundred for him — before the heavens opened.
But by then, not only did the duo take South Africa's second spin bowling option Piedt — the most expensive bowler with figures of 7-1-43-0 — out of the equation but also put the host in the ascendancy.
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