Across two Tests and four One-Day Internationals that he had batted in on India’s tour of South Africa so far, Rohit Sharma had tallied 118 runs in eight innings. Mediocre returns, whichever way you looked at them. On Tuesday (February 13), he almost doubled that tally in one innings, stroking 115 off 126 that carried India to 274 for 7 in the fifth ODI at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.
Rohit’s innings was not without incident. He was involved in mix-ups that ran out both Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, and survived a straightforward dropped chance when on 96, Tabraiz Shamsi shelling the ball at third man after Rohit had upper cut Kagiso Rabada. The memes about a Rohit double-hundred on the way had already made the rounds when Kohli was run out, but a double-wicket maiden by Lungi Ngidi in the 43rd over put the brakes on India, with Rohit edging an attempted cut behind and Hardik Pandya out first ball, also caught behind off the bottom of the bat. India had started the over on 236 for 3, but the last eight overs brought a measly 38 runs as Ngidi reaped the benefits of banging the ball down hard on a length, cramping batsman after batsman for room and surprising them with lift.
Ngidi ended with four wickets, snaring Shreyas Iyer for 30 in the over after his double strike, and getting MS Dhoni later too, finishing with figures of 4 for 51 in nine overs. India’s familiar problem of the middle order not being able to cope with South Africa’s attack hurt them again, though as has been customary right through the ODI series, the top order came good. On a pitch that was expected to get slower as the day went on, India turned a cautious start into a frenetic one, with the in-form Shikhar Dhawan peppering the boundaries while Rohit also shrugged his recent form aside to open up after a steady start.
Morne Morkel had begun with two maidens, but in the fourth over, Dhawan got going with a brace of fours off Rabada. In Rabada’s next over, Dhawan hit a straight drive and Rohit – who had been out six times on tour to Rabada – stepped out and sent the ball sailing over long-on, a stunning shot against the pace Rabada was generating. The bowler would hit 150 kph during the match, and had his revenge in his next over. Dhawan, who had hit three consecutive fours off Morkel to get India rocketing along, fell to the short-ball trap, hooking straight to fine leg and leaving the team 48 for 1 in 7.2 overs.
The second-wicket stand once again yielded handsome returns for India, though this time it was between Virat Kohli and Rohit. Kohli didn’t look uncomfortable at the crease, but he seemed to be setting himself up for a long haul, and therefore began more sedately. When he was on 28, there was a tense moment as Heinrich Klaasen whipped the bails off, as Shamsi – playing this game in place of an injured Chris Morris – drew Kohli forward in the 23rd over. Numerous replays could not determine conclusively whether Kohli had half a millimetre behind the line or not, and eventually the batsman was given not out.
It didn’t cost South Africa much as yet another Kohli-Rohit stand ended in a run-out. Rohit had tapped Morkel towards point, and at best, there was only a very risky single in it. Kohli hared down though, and by the time he turned around and went back with Rohit refusing the run, it was too late. Kohli had gone for a 54-ball 36. It ended a 105-run stand that came off 109 balls.
The third-wicket stand ended in the same way. This time Rahane hit the ball to mid-on and set off. Rohit hadn’t responded and was a tad late in raising his hand. Rahane too didn’t turn around immediately and by the time he tried to regain his crease, it was all over. Iyer and Rohit did the rebuilding from 176 for 3 with a 60-run stand, until Ngidi struck.
Before that, Rohit had got to his first ever century in South Africa. His previous highest ODI score was just 23, while his highest score in the country was the 47 he got in the second innings of the Centurion Test. He tucked Shamsi to fine-leg for a couple of runs at the end of the 36th over to bring up the landmark.
Traditionally, Rohit has tended to explode after three figures, but this particular surface didn’t allow for it, and even after getting to a century, the Indians were more in a run gathering mode than exploding one. It all seemed to set up towards a late final assault before Ngidi wrecked those plans, but on a pitch that won’t be a batting beauty, South Africa will still have to work for their runs to keep the series alive.