India’s decision to turn Rohit Sharma into a Test opener hasn’t worked out so badly after all. He now has three hundreds from four innings, and has inflicted so much pain on South Africa that India will wonder why this could not have been tried sooner. On Sunday, Rohit completed his maiden Test double hundred, off 249 balls, taking his tally of runs for the series past 500. He was toying with the bowling when he was dismissed, for 212, and it would have surprised nobody if he had gone on to raise a triple century.
India declared its first innings on 497 for nine, with Ajinkya Rahane registering his first Test hundred on home soil in three years. By the close of play on the second day of the third Test, the good Sunday crowd had been treated to what has become a familiar trope of the Freedom Series: a mountainous Indian total, a declaration late in the afternoon, and a clatter of South African wickets in the evening session. Mohammed Shami snared Dean Elgar with the second ball of the innings, the batsman unable to get out of the way of a well-directed short delivery, before Umesh Yadav got rid of Quinton de Kock with a brutal lifter. South Africa was nine for two, and in an ocean of bother, before bad light forced an early end to proceedings again. There have only been 121.3 overs of play over the two days, but India will believe it has plenty of time to push for a win.
The home side resumed on 224 for three in the morning, with Rohit and Rahane at the crease. South Africa may have hoped to make early inroads, but its bowlers offered no threat, and India raced away. Rohit effortlessly took Lungi Ngidi apart, whipping him through the leg-side off his hips, punching him through the covers off the back-foot, and steering him through third man. Dane Piedt beat him one ball and Rohit casually reverse-swept the next for four.
Rahane was a delight to watch. He is batting as well as he perhaps ever has, every single stroke appearing to come right off the middle of the blade. The highlight was a pair of remarkably neat, inch-perfect cover-drives off Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada. He got to his 11th Test hundred off 169 balls, with India scoring at over four an over in the first hour of play.
Rahane fell for 115, edging George Linde behind to hand the left-arm spinner his first Test wicket. It brought the curtains down on a fourth-wicket stand of 267. Rohit marched towards his double-ton in Ravindra Jadeja’s company, tucking into some generous bowling from Dane Piedt. But when South Africa took the new ball, he suddenly appeared less certain. With the milestone 13 runs away, Nortje drew a thickish outside-edge that squirted away to the boundary. On 196, Rohit drove away from his body, inside-edging Rabada onto the pads. Then on 199, in the final over before lunch, he nearly chopped Rabada on. Back in the dressing room, Rahane covered his mouth with his hands.
Rohit remained on 199 at the interval. But he got there in style after the break, pulling Ngidi over the leg-side boundary for six. Two balls later, he hit him into the stands again, making his plans clear. Rohit fell in the next over, though, caught at fine-leg off Rabada.
For a man making his debut, Linde impressed. He finished with four wickets, and looked like the best of the South African spinners this series. Umesh Yadav tarnished his figures somewhat towards the end, bludgeoning five sixes in the space of seven balls. By that stage, India was simply having fun.