Minimal Rohit with maximum effect
Minimal Rohit - it's that part of his game when the economy of his movements are pronounced, his natural ability to play the ball late has a definite purpose. It's when he pulls his hands away from chasing the ball and when the defensive taps are from the crease and right below his eye. There's also a visibly conscious effort to keep this going for as long as necessary. Typically, it has come at the start of any of his innings across the series, even when he got out early in Pune. It's anything but Sehwag, the opener he was likened to when he took over the opening mantle in Test cricket.
The minimality is in the design of his knock - wherein he forces his shot-making range to furthest corner of the drawer - and not just his batting gait. It's this facet of his game that is often under-rated in his ODI career, and perhaps even overshadowed by his stroke-making. But it's a facet that is bound to find its rightful place in the Test format.
Particularly so when he plays more knocks like his sixth Test ton, in Ranchi.
Here, the hard ball had to be seen off, and so too a raging Rabada. Typically, this phase of the Rohit template, where he's more reactive to the ball than proactive, lasts lesser than it did in Ranchi.
And unlike other batsmen with this method, it's not entirely dependent on the team's score. Even when India were 39/3, you wouldn't be surprised if Rohit were to loft one over the fence. That he won't be a slave to the situation is an attitude that Rohit has carried on despite criticism when he was in and out of the Test team.
What has changed now is that Rohit's a bigger slave to the bowling at him. He delays those shifts up in gears, until he's sure of it. In the first session, apart from Rabada who was targeting the outside edge with vicious away moving balls in a testing first spell, South Africa had more plans up their sleeve.
Ngidi, replacing Rabada, started targeting the stumps. With two men in the midwicket area, a classic modern field designed for straight lines in the subcontinent, he was building up some pressure too.
Until about fifteen minutes from the Lunch interval Rohit did not flinch from his purposefulness. The only forced diversions, if any, came when his pull shot was called out. Trying to bring him away from this zone was Rabada, with a surprise short one that had Rohit gloving a pull past the 'keeper.
After 20 overs, Rohit had 23 off 55 balls, which was deceptively flattering to the approach he had diligently carried out. The first two balls of the 21st over were indicative of some release from this restraint. A long hop was pulled away, and a quick shuffle came about to "work the ball" to fine leg. After about a hundred minutes in the middle, and after facing 56 balls, Rohit showed that he was moving towards being proactive. The flicks were played wristily, and the cuts powerfully so that the fielders were avoided.
But just after Lunch, Rabada bowled another inspired over, getting the ball to move away and beating Rohit thrice forcing him to take a few steps back in his method. Back to minimal Rohit, briefly. When George Linde was floating deliveries through diagonally and outside the leg stump, invariably pitching in the blind spots, Rohit saw the plan through for an over, before bringing out a whippy flick to beat the plan.
It would take him another hour in the session, and 103 balls, before he played a drive on the up, a stunning shot off Anrich Nortje. The following over also contained THE shot that indicated that he was now moving on. With a man at short mid off prowling for a catch, Rohit played a powerful drive off Ngidi that split the smallest. It was a boundary brought out of brute force.
The shift in Rohit's batting approach would also dictate India's position in the game. He'd move from 54 off 100 balls at one point, before hitting last 63 runs of the day off just 64 balls. It had needed one and a half sessions of minimal Rohit to ensure that he could change into these gears without losing control.
Vikarm Rathour, India's batting coach, cited that this was something that Rohit had worked on. "He's such an experienced player. You don't have to do anything with his technique. The only adjustment he had to do was with his game plans. In Test cricket, you need to play through those tough spells that you will get. And I think he's doing really well in this series. He needed to make that mental adjustment to his game plans," said Rathour.
As three hundreds in the series stand testament, those plans are working to maximum effect.