Rohit Sharma not to be rushed in Test opener role, says Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli feels Rohit Sharma can have a devastating impact on the opposition bowlers if he manages to grow in his new Test opener role.

Rohit Sharma during a nets session ahead of India's first Test against South Africa in Visakhapatnam.   -  AFP Photo

When the chairman of selectors M.S.K. Prasad announced that Rohit Sharma is being considered as an opening option for the upcoming home Test matches against South Africa, few batted an eyelid. But for a batsman who has opened only thrice in first-class cricket the prospect of batting at the top in a format where Rohit's stats have, since the sparkling back-to-back hundreds in his debut series in 2013, belied his talent, did draw a few raised eyebrows.

It wasn't a surprise that when India captain Virat Kohli walked in for the pre-match presser on Wednesday, the questions seemed to be centred on Rohit's promotion up the order and the thought process that went behind a move, which as Kohli later revealed, had been in the pipeline for a while.

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"It (opening with Rohit) has been discussed for a long time... as far as Rohit is concerned, batting down the order was about finding a spot wherever possible which wasn't working out both ways. Clarity of role is crucial for a player," Kohli said.

"We could not see a situation where that (Rohit opening) could happen in a match. But now we have the ideal opportunity and both Rohit and the team management are excited to see how it pans out."

'No rush at all'

After the Test series in England in 2014, the Indian team hit a trough, with a promising start turning into a 3-1 series defeat. Kohli's form was among the main concerns. He had aggregated 134 runs across five Tests, for one of his worst series ever. It was against this backdrop that the BCCI rang in changes to the coaching staff with Ravi Shastri being appointed team director at the time. The move paid dividends as Kohli rediscovered his mojo with the bat, racking up runs at will since then. Kohli, purely as a batsman, therefore understands the significance of opportunity and security in the batting line-up.

"We are not looking to rush him (Rohit) at all. It is about him finding his game because, in India, it is going to be a different pattern compared to abroad... opening is a slot where you have to give a player space to understand his game. A day-one pitch in India is good to bat, so you might be playing more shots than you would in Australia, South Africa and England. Having said that, we are not looking at a certain kind of batting when it comes to opening the innings.

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"Rohit's strength is to take the game forward, very similar to what Viru bhai (Virender Sehwag) used to do. No one told him to go and get a 100 before lunch (smiles)... it's basically his natural instincts taking over and once that happened, he could demolish attacks and put the team into pole position. As Rohit grows into the role, he certainly has the capability to do just that. You won't see Rohit following (Cheteshwar) Pujara's template... the key is to let him find his natural game whenever he feels absolutely comfortable."

Kohli also emphasised the importance of an unscrambled mind and how it helps a batsman adjust to the challenges of switching positions in the batting order. "In Test cricket, even I started at six and then came up to four. It is more of a mental change; the moment you convince yourself that 'I am good enough to do this' then your game follows. Playing at six sometimes requires you to play the new ball while as an opener, you know you will face the new ball - you are not in two minds about whether it will be new or old ball. Rohit is up for the challenge.

"In ODIs too, Rohit started in the middle-order and suddenly opening conversations took place and within six to eight months, he opened and you know what happened afterwards. If he can emulate his white-ball form in red-ball cricket then it's a great thing for him and Indian cricket."