Three hundred and three runs, 13 sixes, two hundreds.
Tumbling records and fumbling fielders have been a constant in Rohit Sharma’s white-ball dominance. But his seamless transition from a topsy-turvy Test career to the only Indian opener in five-day cricket after the great Sunil Gavaskar to hit centuries in both innings of a Test has brought great satisfaction to the team and the man himself.
However, there’s very little his twin tons reveal in terms of Sharma’s future as a Test opener. If anything, the fireworks in Visakhapatnam were but an extension of his spellbinding success in limited-overs cricket. “I’m definitely very happy with my performance, but it is not the end. I’m just getting started. Hopefully, good things will follow,” Sharma said after India went 1-0 up with a comprehensive 203-run win over South Africa on Sunday.
It wasn’t so long ago when Rohit’s place in the Test squad, let alone in the playing XI, seemed a very distant dream. In the two years gone by, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and K. L. Rahul, India’s preferred Test openers, racked up a mountain of runs playing at home. Vijay got hundreds, Rahul cobbled together a series of 50-plus scores, and Dhawan paced his innings at a strike rate of approximately 80, so Sharma was forced to play the waiting game.
And then came the overseas assignments, and with them a series of poor outings for Vijay, Dhawan and Rahul. Prithvi Shaw’s unavailability owing to a doping violation meant the time was ripe to give Sharma’s Test career a new lease of life, this time at the top of the order, alongside Mayank Agarwal, who emerged as an opener during the tour to Australia earlier this year.
The Mumbaikar insists he never let the scrutiny surrounding his productiveness in Tests affect him. “I’ve protected myself with a shield around me for a very long time and that prevents me from all the outside distractions. What people think or say about me doesn’t really affect me because, eventually, I’ve got to enjoy my game,” Rohit said.
“It was my dream to play cricket and I am living that dream. What people say or whether people will talk at all about me never bothered me growing up and it doesn’t have a bearing on me now,” he added.
Growing as a keeper
Wriddhiman Saha has been playing the role of a complete wicketkeeper-batsman in Tests for India since the retirement of M. S. Dhoni in 2014. He flourished on the big stage until a hamstring injury ruled him out of the second Test in South Africa in January 2018. A series of injuries followed, forcing him out of action for more than a year.
The Bengal keeper replaced the struggling Rishabh Pant in the Indian line-up for the first Test against South Africa, and Sharma was effusive in his praise for Saha’s contribution. “We have seen Saha grow as a keeper over the years...and he’s getting better with each passing day,” Sharma said.
“He plays a big part in our line-up and that’s why he is back in the squad. Keeping in these conditions (in Visakhapatnam) isn’t easy, especially when the odd delivery is keeping low, the ball is turning and there is at times an awkward bounce, but he did a great job.”
Pant, meanwhile, has faced criticism from various quarters for throwing away his wicket, but Sharma expressed faith in the youngster’s talent.
“Pant is definitely the kind of quality player any team would want to have in its squad, but it’s not my place to comment on who should play and who shouldn’t,” Sharma said. “We have seen what Pant can do with the bat and of course he is working hard on his keeping and batting... I’m sure everyone around him is helping him,” he added. “When Saha wasn’t playing in the West Indies, he was always the first one to walk up to Pant after the day’s play and talk to him about his keeping. The two share a great camaraderie and I hope that continues.”
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