Rohit Sharma knows when to score big. When he opened for the first time in Tests against South Africa in the first match at Visakhapatnam, he left no doubts about it.
A week ago, when he scored a two-ball duck during the 3-day practice match against the South Africans, Rohit was mocked by a section Indian fans on social media, some even questioning whether he would do any good in the Test series against South Africa. Yet, the support from the team management is understandable. After all, the Mumbaikar, a natural timer of the ball, brings to the game a style and approach that few possess in this Indian team. If one juxtaposes Rohit’s ODI and Test careers on each other, it does not take rocket science to understand
his one-day record (8000-plus runs at an average of 48.52, three double centuries among 27 centuries in total) is way ahead of his Test career.
To put things into perspective, he managed to score only one century in the previous 26 test matches he played. Even though he has taken himself to great heights in his limited-overs career, Rohit’s inefficient display in tests ensured that he has never been able to stake a claim in the side. Therefore, his selection in the Test squad and the subsequent decision to promote him as an opener in the longest format of the game was an experiment from the team management.
It was a gamble that India took as neither of the two regular openers, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, succeeded in
cementing their position. There was a possibility that this gamble would fail. For Rohit too, this new gig was perhaps the last throw of the dice, as a failure would have compelled the selectors to consider younger faces. For instance, Priyank Panchal who struck a fine century against South Africa ‘A’ last month showed that he is ready to play a big role. Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is just 27, has already proved himself to be an organised batsman and has an appetite for scoring some big knocks. Further, Prithvi Shaw’s drug ban might have side lined him, but as his suspension ends in November, he will be back in the reckoning.
Rohit, however, reaffirmed his credentials, just as he has so many times in white-ball cricket. He became the first-ever batsman to score two centuries on debut as a Test opener and shattered a slew of records that came his way.
After a sensational 176 in the first innings, the “Hitman” followed up with another stupendous ton in the second innings. This was his fifth hundred in Tests and with the century in the second innings, he became the second Indian opener after the legendary Sunil Gavaskar to have achieved the feat.
To make things more special, Rohit also tumbled the record for most sixes in a Test as he cleared the fences 13 times, surpassing Pakistan’s Wasim Akram feat of 12 sixes against Zimbabwe in 1996. He also became part of history as he also broke South African great Kepler Wessels’ 47-year-old record to score the largest number of runs (303) in a Test opening the innings for the first time. Wessels scored 208 against Australia on their tour to Down Under in 1982-83.
For Rohit, this feat would do him a world of good in ways more than one. In fact, in the next three years, India would be touring New Zealand, Australia, England, and South Africa. It has certainly helped him answer his critics who, time and again, have commented that they were baffled to know a batsman who can be so successful in the shorter version of the game, but so ordinary in the longest format. His back-to-back centuries are a sign that he might have finally overcome the technical shortcomings that acted as a roadblock over the years. Perhaps sheer self-confidence might have helped him score two big innings in Vizag and justify the selectors’ trust in him.
It is also important to mention that while he has been extremely good in the whites for India at home, averaging over 90 in his last six innings, he averages a paltry 26 in 18 tests abroad with the highest score of just 79 in 33 innings. The stylish right-hander knows that he will be put under a stern test in two different bowling conditions – fast and bouncy deliveries bowled into the ribs in Australia and South Africa, and the swinging conditions in England and New Zealand. So, he would need to be extremely consistent to be an automatic choice in the Test side as an opener.
It is also quite evident that India would settle with Rohit Sharma as an opener for quite some time after his magnificent display. The fierce display of batting from him in the first Test has shown that the gamble which the team management decided to take has been partly paid-off, if not completely.
Rohit has, perhaps, salvaged a career in red-ball cricket that, even a year ago, looked so unfulfilling and disappointing, especially when he has earned the moniker “Hitman” for his exploits in countless short innings.
If one of the most famous decisions in Indian cricket is recalled, former captain Sourav Ganguly was once equally confused on where to fit Virender Sehwag as a player in the Test side. It didn’t take long for Sehwag to arguably become the greatest Indian opener of all time when he was asked to open by the team management. Only time will tell whether Kohli’s decision to promote Rohit as an opener would help him re-write the book just like Sehwag did.
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