The idea of Rohit Sharma opening the batting in Tests may have garnered a lot more support over time, but we all know how it was received at the beginning. Before Rohit made an excellent start against the visiting South Africans back in October 2019 and ended as India’s best averaging player in the first World Test Championship (WTC), his fate as a Test opener was considered doomed.
At the time, one could understand the sense of pessimism that surrounded Rohit’s promotion up the order. He was averaging 39.62 after 47 innings as a Test batsman till the end of September 2019, a number which was swelled by runs against West Indies and Sri Lanka in home conditions. Rohit had a stop and start Test career and had been facing question marks over his defensive technique.
While for fans Rohit’s sudden elevation was unfair on others, experts thought that a player still learning to stay afloat at the Test level is being thrown into the deeper end of waters against opposition attacks of unprecedented depth. The idea is bound to flop, they all agreed.
Back then, Rohit’s career was about a few heartwarming displays overshadowed majorly by frustrating untimely dismissals, injuries, lengthy periods on the sidelines and an evident struggle to understand the rhythm of Test match batting and innings building whenever he played. He had only a few vocal supporters of his Test match promise amidst heaps of vocal naysayers. One of those in unwavering support of the idea of Rohit Sharma the Test cricketer was Nasser Hussain.
“If Rohit Sharma is not a test match batsman then I have been watching a different Rohit Sharma over the last 5 years!!,” tweeted the former England captain back in early 2018, even as the rest of the world questioned Rohit’s spot and future in Test cricket after a difficult series in South Africa.
“You can’t be as talented as Rohit Sharma and not crack test cricket .. India needs to stick with him!! Don’t worry about the stats use your eyes and gut feeling.”
Much improved Rohit Sharma returns to England at just the right time
Hussain would feel vindicated today. And so would the Indian team management and selectors, who, barring an elongated period back in 2014-15, have more or less stuck with their player when almost everyone else denounced their faith and backing of Rohit Sharma.
Since October 2019, the skillful right-hand batsman has been averaging over 60 at the Test level, with some game-transforming knocks in difficult conditions throughout the WTC. Rohit’s first-innings ton on a rank-turner in Chepauk this year was hands down one of the best knocks played by an Indian batsman in recent Test history. In the same series against England, Rohit produced a vital half-century under lights in the low-scoring D/N Test in Ahmedabad.
Independent of the quality of these knocks, however, we tend to underplay their magnitude, we filter performances on a ‘home and away’ basis and tend to look past those great acts that would be great irrespective of wherever they came. Rohit has played multiple such knocks at ‘home’ in his career. And it is not that he hasn’t been an improved batsman abroad in this period, which is the very reason why there is a greater sense of optimism about him heading into this England series.
Rohit may have not had an eye-catching score next to his name as an opener in foreign conditions yet, but his contribution has certainly flown under the radar a little bit. In five of his six innings abroad post October 2019, Rohit has seen off the new ball, playing 50 plus balls. He has been dismissed inside the first 15 overs only once. Rohit’s influence on India’s glorious ascent to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy remains massively underacknowledged. He was also one of the more solid-looking Indian batsmen in the WTC final against New Zealand.
Though he hasn't made a big score opening in away Tests, Rohit Sharma has quietly seen off the new ball often. He has survived 50+ balls in five of the six innings and was dismissed inside the first 15 overs only once.
— Deepu Narayanan (@deeputalks) June 22, 2021
An improved technique, where Rohit has been taking judicious strides towards the ball and playing closer to his body than before, has helped him make better decisions at the crease. He is also deriving greater confidence from role clarity and consistency of game time. Rohit of today knows he is playing all of India’s Tests, unlike the struggler of the past who had an uncertain spot and future.
For Rohit Sharma of today, it is just the ideal time to return to England for a series. Having played only one of the five Tests back in 2014 and none on the 2018 tour due to injury and faced regular doubts of over his technique, here is an opportunity for Rohit Sharma 2.0 to change perceptions, reinforcing why he is a much-improved customer. Doing it in the most difficult country for Test match batting, especially as an opener, will once and for all dispel the doubts over Rohit’s career at the top of the order and also enhance his reputation.
It would be important for us from outside to keep the expectations in check, for such has been the challenge of batting in ‘English conditions’. But if Rohit can play his part resolutely, see through that new ball and average say over 35 with about 70-80 balls faced per innings over five Tests, it’ll amount to one of the better efforts on an England tour by a modern Indian batsman. It would earn Rohit Sharma the respect his Test career deserves.