Rohit Sharma smashed his third century of the series as India staged a remarkable recovery after a top-order collapse to reach 205 for three at tea on day one of the third Test against South Africa here on Saturday.
Having fought off the first session where India were reduced to 39/3, Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane (74 batting) shared an unbeaten 166-run stand, batting out the entire afternoon session in which 134 runs were scored.
Sharma, who hammered 13 boundaries and four sixes, also became the first Indian opener since Sunil Gavaskar to score more than two centuries in a Test series. Gavaskar had achieved the feat way back in 1970.
Sharma’s Test century number six came with a massive six off spinner Dane Piedt. He paced his innings brilliantly, scoring his first 23 runs off 55 balls before making 78 off the next 75.
If that was not enough, Rahane matched him at the other end and brought up his 21st half-century in just 70 balls.
Piedt, who was included in place of Senuran Muthusamy, cut a sorry figure against Sharma’s fury, giving away 43 runs in his six overs.
Debutant left-arm spinner George Linde, who replaced an injured Keshav Maharaj, looked tidy with figures of 8-1-30-0.
Such was the duo’s dominance after lunch that Rabada who had a fiery opening spell of 7-4-15-2, looked listless in the second spell that read 4-0-30-0.
Rahane matched Sharma shot for shot and at one point even had a better strike rate than his explosive Mumbai partner as he notched up his fastest half-century in India.
Sharma, however, had a testing opening session and survived on seven after reviewing an LBW successfully.
He also survived a runout chance when he was out of crease but Zubayr Hamza’s throw from point missed the stumps.
Uneven bounce with a few staying really low greeted the Indian openers in the first morning of the final Test as the duo of Rabada and Lungi Ngidi made full use of the conditions to give the visitors their best start of the series.
Rabada made the most of it dismissing opener Mayank Agarwal (10) and Cheteshwar Pujara for a rare duck inside the first-hour of play.
The first breakthrough came in Rabada’s third over when the the pacer swung it away with Agarwal edging it to Dean Elgar at third slip.
Rabada went on to dismiss Pujara for a duck in his fifth over following a successful review by the South Africans after the onfield umpire Richard Illingworth turned down a an lbw appeal.
But it was Nortje who earned the biggest wicket as he sent back Pune Test’s double centurion Kohli after the skipper failed to read one that came back in sharply.
Kohli took the review but only to be turned down with an umpire’s call as the skipper went back to the pavillion frustrated.
Earlier, 30-year-old left-arm spinner Shabaz Nadeem became the 296th player to represent India when he was handed a surprise Test debut less than 24 hours after being included into the squad in place of an injured Kuldeep Yadav.
In his bid to avoid the ignominy of a 3-0 whitewash, Du Plessis made as many as five changes to his team with two of them — Keshav Maharaj and Aiden Markram — being forced ones as they both are injured.
In came Lungi Ngidi, Zubayr Hamza, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde and Dane Piedt with Vernon Philander, Theunis de Bruyn and Senuran Muthusamy being left out.