When India resumed their first innings on Day 3 of the final Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, there was a world of opportunities for both Rohit Sharma and Lokesh Rahul. The duo had done really well to steer India out of early trouble after Mitchell Starc had taken Murali Vijay out for a duck. Now was the chance for them to consolidate and make their starts count. (Scorecard | Day 3 Blog)
Rohit Sharma was dropped after failures in Adelaide and Brisbane, but he found himself back in the side and batting at the coveted No. 3 spot. He had reached 40 not out on the second day while Rahul, after a nightmarish debut batting at No. 6, had seen himself through to 31. On a flat pitch and a hot day, they had to tire the Aussie bowlers and then reap the rewards. Only one of them did both to perfection.
After surviving the first half of the morning session, Rohit and Rahul looked resolute against some tight bowling by the Australians. The field was up, there were five catching positions at times and Starc, Ryan Harris and Shane Watson were executing their plans well. But the pair looked determined to push forward and bide their time. It was a great display of Test match batting. Rohit, after a watchful first hour, brought up his half-century, second in Tests, with an uppish drive off Ryan Harris. But that is where it all started to go wrong for the Mumbaikar. (Steve Smith in 'spidercam' catch controversy)
Rohit premeditated a Nathan Lyon delivery that was fuller and he tried to sweep a length he should have looked to drive. Result - bowled. He had attempted a similar shot off a similar length Wednesday afternoon and was lucky to get an inside edge on the pads. Sunil Gavaskar had said Rohit needed to keep his wide array of shots in his back-pocket and bring them out at an opportune moment. Clearly, Rohit was in no mood to listen and instead lost the chance to score an important hundred. "Fifties are not enough, quipped former Australian batsman Damien Martyn on a STAR Sports chat show, Rohit needs to look for hundreds."
At the other end, 22-year-oldÂ rookie Rahul was in a different zone. Having played two forgettable shots on debut, the Karnataka batsman looked comfortable opening the innings. Like Rohit, Rahul was prepared to give the first 90 minutes to the bowlers and saw India through to lunch safely. Back after the break, Rahul slowly started playing shots that took your breath away. In the company of the aggressive Virat Kohli, Rahul blossomed, playing stylish drives and cuts. He even took on Steve Smith, whose leg-spinners did not seem to come out right.
Rahul showed utter disdain for reputation and hammered Lyon for a six to move into the 90s. The hundred came when he guided a short-of-a-length Starc delivery past gully to the fence. It was batting of the highest order against some of the best bowlers in the world and drew praise from former India captains. Sourav Ganguly, a hard man to please, said he saw Rahul as one for the future but added in the same breath that Indians fans should not get ahead of themselves. "We have seen what has happened with Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara."
Ganguly feels Rahul needs to stay away from the hook shot, a shot that has seen him perish in two of his last three innings. At MCG, he got out trying to hit Mitchell Johnson's bouncer and at SCG, his bright innings came to an end on 110 when he mistimed his hook against Starc. During an interview with Ganguly later, Rahul said: "You are right, I need to keep away the hook shot and be happy with the other shots I have."
These are signs that he is ready to learn and adapt, an absolute necessity in international cricket. There is still a long way to go, but like some of the greats have done before him, Rahul has announced himself in style in the most hostile cricketing country for touring sides.