ROHIT SHARMA completed back-to-back centuries to enable India to regain a firm grip on the opening Test match against the Standard Bank Proteas at Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
The Proteas had done extremely well to restrict India’s first innings lead to just 71 runs and the home side needed to score quickly to give themselves a chance to have a second crack at the visiting batsmen before the close of play on day four.
And that is exactly what Sharma enabled them to do. He finished on 127 (149 balls, 10 fours and 7 sixes) and enabled his side to score 140 without losing a wicket in the extended middle session and then a further 148 off just 19 overs when they really put the hammer down in the lead-up to the declaration.
It left South Africa with a target of 395 in what amounts to 107 overs, something that no side visiting India has ever managed to come even close to in the fourth innings of a Test match.
It certainly meant that Virat Kohli showed a healthy dose of respect for the South African batting line-up.
India kept the pressure on the Proteas in the nine overs that were possible before bad light brought a slightly early close when Ravindra Jadeja dismissed first innings centurion Dean Elgar leg before wicket with a ball that kept low.
The Proteas closed on 11/1 and need a nominal 384 to complete victory. However, surviving the remaining 98 overs looks distinctly possible. So far only 22 wickets have fallen in the match (11 on each side) and, apart from variable bounce, batting for long periods seems quite achievable.
Apart from Sharma, the standout players for India on the day were Ravi Ashwin, who took the last two remaining wickets in the Proteas first innings to finish with seven in the innings although he had to bowl 46.2 overs to achieve that, and Cheteshwar Pujara who returned to form with an innings of 81 (148 balls, 13 fours and 2 sixes) and shared a partnership of 169 for the second wicket with Sharma.
As had happened in the first innings it took a superb delivery from Vernon Philander to claim his wicket.
While the Proteas will be happy with the way their batting is gelling, there will be concern at the manner in which all three their spinners came under the pump with only Dane Piedt managing to bowl some maiden overs.
India have lost only 11 wickets in the match and that is something to address in the build-up to the second test.
It was not reflected in his figures but Kagiso Rabada was the pick of the South African attack but had little luck with edges that either fell short or just wide of the catching cordon.
Keshav Maharaj’s five wickets in the match takes his career total to 99 and puts him on the brink of becoming the 18th member of the distinguished 100 club.