Ruthless and unyielding, India flexed their muscles to brush South Africa aside in the third Test, thus capping their record 11th successive series win at home with their first clean sweep against the Proteas. Hearteningly, this innings victory too was driven by a collective performance, though Rohit Sharma was clearly at the forefront.
Batting with the maturity that experience brings with it, Rohit showcased impeccable judgement in the first session when an inspired Kagiso Rabada was making the most of assistance from the surface. With the ball jagging around, Rohit left balls outside off repeatedly, refusing to play unless he needed to. Because there was swing too, he desisted from driving even when the ball was full, relying more on strokes off the back foot to score. Not only did he come with a clear game plan, he also showed the discipline to stick to it, which to me was a huge tick in the box. Once he got his eye in and the pitch eased out a touch, he was back dotting the landscape with conventional free-flowing Rohit strokes. That he kicked on to score his maiden double-ton was further proof of his desire to not be satisfied easily.
His partner in a match-sealing fourth-wicket stand was Ajinkya Rahane, who produced his most fluent Test knock in India. Rahane has always delivered when the chips are down, and it was no surprise to see him bring his ‘A’ game when India were 39-3. His mindset and footwork against spin, which has troubled him in the past, was exemplary.
Contrary to expectations, pace more than spin got the job done for the hosts after they amassed close to 500. It was terrific to watch Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav not just pick up wickets, but also in the manner in which they did so. The ball of the match was the one with, which Umesh got Quinton de Kock in the first innings. De Kock plays the short deliveries well, but he had no answer to the snorter that took his glove after rearing up from a length.
I was delighted that Shahbaz Nadeem made his debut, just reward for years of unsung toil in first-class cricket. It was a bonus that the debut came at his home ground, and the fact that he looked entirely at home in Test cricket bears testimony to the depth and robustness of the Indian domestic structure. There’s a lesson in that for South Africa battered and bruised as they are.