Rohit Sharma clears first test with flying colours
In his first innings as Test opener, Rohit Sharma hits an authoritative century before rain washes out final session.
Rohit Sharma is one of the best batsman India has produced in the modern era. He has the technique, the temperament and the gorgeous stroke-making ability. What he does not have is runs, against quality attacks, in trying conditions, in red-ball cricket.
In 18 overseas Tests, he averages 26.32 and has never scored a century. At home, he is a beast. On debut, Rohit made 177 in Kolkata, against West Indies, in 2013. But the attack was not Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts, but rather, Tino Best, Sheldon Cottrell, Shane Shillingford, Veerasammy Permaul with a sprinkling of Darren Sammy.
Next Test, he made an unbeaten 111in Mumbai, same attack, same situation. India won each of those Tests easily. Add a century against Sri Lanka in Nagpur and you have an average of 85-plus, before this opening stint, at home.
So far, so good? When Shikhar Dhawan batted himself out of the opening slot in Test cricket and KL Rahul struggled to hold onto what was a God-given chance, India’s think-tank turned to Rohit for the home series against South Africa. While it was always believed that he was too good a batsman to be ignored, Rohit’s five centuries in the World Cup in England allowed the think-tank the luxury of giving him a run at home.
On a Visakhapatnam pitch that was far from threatening, Rohit held his own as an opener. He played and missed more than once against Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada in the opening act, but the important thing was that he weathered the storm.
Against Philander, bowling at 130 kmh or less, Rohit was consistently outside his crease, cutting out the swing and seam and forcing the bowler to shorten his length. Against the quicker Rabada, Rohit was always watchful for the short ball while pressing forward to drive the he could. Two slips were in place, a third even came in, but Rohit’s hands were soft enough to ensure no edge carried.
When the spinner came on, Keshav Maharaj, the accurate slow-left arm orthodox, early in the piece, Rohit watched him carefully. At any point that he chose, Rohit could’ve hit the spinner into the stands, with or against the turn, but he waited. And when he cut loose, it was a sight for sore eyes.
Mayank Agarwal, the senior in the opening stand by virtue of having been in harness four Tests prior to this one, had done his bit, pushing on when needed, protecting the partnership when possible and most crucially not attempting to match Rohit stroke for stroke.
Agarwal watched from the other end when Rohit brought up his maiden Test century as opener, a forcing shot through the off side against Senuran Murhusamy, the part-time left-arm spinner, taking him to three figures. Rohit raised his bat to the dressing-room and then acknowledged the rest of the Visakhapatnam crowd, but here was a man making apoint to himself as much as the rest of the world.
Agarwal, who made 76 and 42 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and 77 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, in far more trying conditions than were at play in Visakhapatnam may have been wondering what it would take for him to make a century as a Test opener. He was on 84, off 183 balls, to Rohit’s 115 off 174, when the players were forced to take shelter just before the scheduled tea break.
At 202 without loss, with 59.1 overs bowled, India were in the best possible space, having won the toss and batted first. While it is by no means a done deal, India have Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari and a very long tail to follow. Even early in the piece, this appears to be a first-innings game, and South Africa’s finest will be playing catch up for the best part.
“I was very clear in my mind what I wanted to do.
The new ball will always do a bit in the initial overs -- whether it's red ball or white,” said Rohit, after the day’s play. “I have played cricket in India for a long time now and that's why I was aware of the conditions and knew that once you get past the first 10 overs, it becomes difficult to get wickets.” Rohit was grateful for the chance he had been given.
“I wanted to take the opportunity and that's why I made the management aware of it. I am gra teful to them for providing me with the opportunity and I am happy I could score runs.”
His runs could be the building blocks to a win in this Test, but Rohit will know that this alone will not make him India’s first-choice Test opener in all climes and all seasons.