India vs South Africa, 3rd Test: Rohit, Rahane lift host up after fiery Rabada spell

Rohit Sharma (117*) and Ajinkya Rahane (83*) bailed Indian out of trouble after South African pacers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje made early inroads.

Rahane and Rohit had added 184 for a record fourth-wicket stand against South Africa, surpassing the Rahane-Kohli partnership of 178 in the Pune Test before rain stopped play.   -  AFP

Rohit Sharma (117*, 164b, 14x4, 4x6) scored his third hundred of the series and Ajinkya Rahane (83*, 135b, 11x4, 1x6) came within 17 runs of his 11th Test ton as India weathered a probing first spell from Kagiso Rabada to reach a commanding 224/3 before bad light and rain stopped play on day one at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi.

On a nippy morning, with winter drawing in and the sun playing hide-and-seek, something happened to India, something it had not experienced before in the series: Pressure.

Fiery spell

Unlike in Visakhapatnam and Pune, Rabada used the new ball to his advantage and aided by some early movement pushed the host on the backfoot. He got opener Mayank Agarwal out in the slips before removing Pujara for a nine-ball duck, with one that nipped back in and struck the No. 3 plumb in front.

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But it wasn't so much the dismissals but what happened next that gave a glimpse of Rabada's bristling attacking intent: India captain Virat Kohli was greeted to the crease with a pacy bouncer, forcing the right-hander to take evasive action. Rabada then went on to produce a gem of an 11th over, where he could have easily had Rohit out twice but didn't.

It began with a fullish outswinger, followed by an in-dipper that struck Rohit in front but replays confirmed an inside edge. He capped it off with one that was angled at Rohit before seaming away with extravagant bounce, squaring up the batsman. At the end of the terrific opening spell, Rabada's figures read 7-4-15-2.

The warning bells were sounded when Anrich Nortje set up Kohli for an lbw dismissal; his maiden Test wicket. After getting two deliveries to move away, he pitched one full, shaping in to hit Kohli on the pads. The batsman reviewed but replays showed the ball was crashing the outside of leg-stump. Ranchi wasn't as hot as the previous two venues, allowing the pacers to keep up their intensity across long spells.

Rohit, Rahane dominate

If the first session was about the visitor wresting the initiative from India, the second was about Rohit and Rahane's counterattacking cricket. The two upped the scoring rate, with the latter displaying some attractive strokeplay. Rahane took on South Africa's best bowler Rabada, collecting three boundaries (including an edge to third-man) off his first over after lunch.

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Rabada's second spell of 4-0-30-0 coupled with a century stand, off 128 balls between Rahane and Rohit allowed the host a much-needed release. Rohit started playing more freely in the post-lunch session, the pick of the shots was an effortless loft off Dane Piedt to clear long-off.

He moved into the nineties with another six, this time over long-off and reached his century in 130 balls, becoming only the second Indian opener after Sunil Gavaskar to score three hundreds in a series. India scored 134 runs in the second session as the wheels once again came off South Africa's bowling.

Rahane and Rohit had added 184 for a record fourth-wicket stand against South Africa, surpassing the Rahane-Kohli partnership of 178 in the Pune Test when deteriorating light forced the stoppage of play.