VISAKHAPATNAM : Since that ill-fated morning in Nagpur nine years ago when his Test debut against South Africa got delayed because of a freak injury, Rohit Sharma’s career in whites has been a start-stop story. He looked the part at times, didn’t at times and has been perplexing in general, leaving one to wonder where his career his headed. In the midst of all this, there happened an evolution of Rohit Sharma the ODI player, who can now be counted among the best.
Was he going the Yuvraj Singh way? Not really. Despite looking assured, he never gave the confidence that he belonged at this stage. Seam movement did him in at times. Against spinners — one of his biggest strength is hitting them in the air — he often looked silly. And of course, there was always this axe hanging over his head. Unlike the ODI player who got time to evolve into a batsman capable of hitting five centuries in a World Cup, the Test player was never a regular in the side.
Now, at 32, Rohit is taking a plunge few would dare. Jason Roy tried it and found himself neck-deep in water. Of course Rohit isn’t going to face the Duke ball or conditions where it moves on and off the pitch. His battle will be more with his own mind.There is a school of thought, including captain Virat Kohli, which says that given his talent Rohit can follow in the footsteps of Virender Sehwag and become a formidable Test opener. There are similarities. Both are experts in milking gaps. But there they end. Sehwag was more daring, often doing the opposite of what he was supposed to. Rohit is more conventional. He sticks to his strengths and seldom makes ugly runs. It’s not known if he can graft in Tests.
As Kohli said on the eve of the first Test, it has been a well-thought move. The decision was taken a while back. Had KL Rahul been amongst the runs, India would not have explored this idea. They wanted Rohit in the XI, but the middle-order was packed. “The communication happened a long while back. But we could not see a situation where that could happen in a match. Now we have a situation where the opportunity is there. We thought it’s the ideal time to go ahead with it,” Kohli said.
If Rohit is to be given a long rope, three Tests against South Africa and two against Bangladesh in November should help him find his feet. How patient the team is with him will be crucial. In ODIs, Rohit had MS Dhoni, who gave him ample time to adapt to the new role. How Kohli looks at the situation has to be seen.
Kohli has assured Rohit will get space to grow into the role and the team understands that opening at home and away are two different deals. If the move fails, they have specialists to fall back on. “It’s more of a mental change. The moment you convince yourself ‘yes, I’m good enough to do this’ and put that thought in your head, your game follows accordingly.
“Rohit is in good space. Batting at six also requires you to play the new ball. The good thing with opening is that you know you’re going to face the new ball. He’s up for the challenge and we’re pretty confident that he will find his game, sooner rather than later at the top. And as I said, once he’s in his zone, then, you know, he can do great things for the team. So that’s what we’re looking forward to,” Kohli said.In what is tipped to be a one-sided contest between India and South Africa, Kohli & Co have given followers something else to look forward to.