He came. He opened. He dominated the opposition.
At the ADC-VDCA Stadium in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday, Rohit Sharma, opening the innings in Tests for the first time, flayed the South Africa bowlers all around the ground, especially the spinners, to bring up his fourth Test ton. That this was his sixth consecutive 50-plus score in home Tests was testimony to his ability to score big runs across formats.
Batting in the middle order, the flamboyant right-hander had managed 1,585 runs in 47 innings at a decent average of 39.62, but the recent failures of Test openers K. L. Rahul, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan coupled with the unavailability of Prithvi Shaw meant the opportunity was ripe to give Rohit a crack at the top, and he didn’t disappoint.
“The talk had been going on for a long time... I have been ready for two years, but in the West Indies, they (the management) told me that it is going to happen now (against South Africa).
“Opening in red-ball cricket is a different ball game. You have to train your mind and also look into certain aspects of your technique. You have to challenge yourself to play the new ball and take the game forward...I had no confusion about how I wanted to approach the game,” Sharma said after play was called off due rain.
Sharma, who has played 27 Tests and averages over 85 in nine Tests at home, has been given one more chance to seal a place at the top of the order, an opportunity he is relishing at the moment.
“When you play international cricket, you always look for chances. There will be a lot of challenges ahead but I am not focusing on that. There is so much positivity when you are opening.
“Staying in the present is very crucial. I would like to thank the team management for giving me this chance... The communication from both sides was very clear,” he said.
Sharma, though did not give the opposition any chances in his innings, was initially troubled by Vernon Philander, who got the ball to move both ways. Explaining the particular phase of play in the morning session, where he played and missed a few deliveries, he said, “The new ball, regardless of whether it is red or white, does something initially in all conditions. The red ball poses a tougher challenge. So the first few overs, it was important that we did the basics right: playing closer to the body and leaving the ball. After seven-eight overs, once the shine is gone and the ball stops swinging, we looked to take the game forward.
“It is a slow and low pitch, so if you get stuck, then scoring runs becomes difficult. That’s why we were looking to rotate the strike. See, I have played a lot of first-class cricket as well, so I know the conditions and the importance of finding the gaps early on. I backed myself and stuck to my game plan.”
Sharma feels opening the batting suits his game since it frees his mind. “It’s not like batting at five or six didn’t suit me, but when you are batting lower down the order, the ball reverses, and the field setting is also very different. As an opener, you know you have to play the new ball, you know what the new ball bowlers will do, there will be no reverse swing so the plan is very simple.”
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