CHENNAI: Rohit Sharma. India Test captain. Has a nice ring to it. At some level, this was going to be inevitable the moment Virat Kohli stepped down. At another level, Rohit's promotion in this format has been like watching a race leader lap a backmarker after being said backmarker for years. Even as late as last year, questions were being asked of his place.
Decent but not good enough. That stinging criticism post his Brisbane dismissal in January 2021 (miscued a lofted shot off Nathan Lyon to long-on after scoring 44 off 74) felt like a watershed moment. On commentary, Sunil Gavaskar called it 'irresponsible'. "Unbelievable. Why? Why? Why?" he thundered.
In the post-day press conference, Rohit had defended it. "It is not coming out of nowhere," he had said.
"It is a shot that I play. And I have played it very well in the past... yes, when it looks like that, it looks bad, but that is something I don't think too much into. Of course, I like to make it count and make it big but having said that there is a process which I like to follow, and the process is obviously to make sure that once I am in I am on top of the bowlers and that I am trying to keep the pressure on the opposition bowlers."
Even if a few of the critics believed that he didn't deserve a place in the side then, the 34-year-old is now firmly one of the first names on the teamsheet. Among openers (minimum 10 Tests) since the beginning of 2020, his average of 47.68 is the sixth-best.
Among Indian batters (minimum 10 Tests), it's the best by a considerable margin. And he has cemented his spot not by buckling down but by transferring pressure back onto the bowlers, just like he said he would.
In an era that's been notoriously hard for batting, he has made six scores of 50 or above (two 100s) in 21 innings. His starts - he's seventh-best for balls faced as an opener in the same time period - have contributed towards winning Test(s) in every series.
His last 12 months with the bat has given Rohit this opportunity of being India's 35th Test captain. One can even argue that the team management may have erred in not a) giving the job to somebody younger like Jasprit Bumrah and b) having a different red-ball skipper. But it's rich recognition for somebody who has taken the scenic route to finally belong at this level. It was particularly fascinating to listen to Rohit's Test journey in his own words at the pre-match press conference on Thursday.
"What target should I set for me?" Rohit asked. "I am happy with 40 (43). I don't have regrets. Quite a few injuries, quite a few ups and downs, but that goes on in life and in cricket. You will never get a smooth ride in cricket. The ups and downs will teach you a lot. Now I don't have personal targets that I have to do this, I have to do that. In front of me is a big job..."
That's a very self-aware response. When he made his debut against West Indies in Kolkata in 2012, Virat Kohli was playing his 19th Test. On Friday morning, Kohli will be walking out for his 100th. Put it this way: Kohli has almost played 2x the number of Tests (81) Rohit has (42) since the latter's debut.
Now, though, as Rohit says, there's no time for regrets. The job on hand is to take forward Kohli's red-ball legacy forward.