After a rocky ride of eight years playing Test cricket for India, Rohit Sharma is ready to embark on his new stint as the team’s captain.
Known more for his batting wizardry and his success as captain in the shorter formats, Rohit was for long prolific at home and prone to struggles abroad in Tests but in the last year has shown he can bat well in seaming conditions and unfamiliar conditions away from home as well. His batting in England evoked admiration and brought forth a rare 2-1 series lead in four matches, the fifth Test delayed by a year due to COVID-19.
Rohit’s batting in England embellished Kohli’s record as captain in Tests, and less than a year later, he finds himself sitting in the hot seat to take the mantle from his illustrious team-mate and steer Indian cricket ahead under a relatively new head coach.
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At a press conference ahead of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka, Rohit made it clear that he wanted to stick to his philosophy of staying in the present even as he admitted the road ahead will be challenging for him. “It’s been my philosophy not to think too far ahead. They’re different formats – Test cricket and limited-overs cricket. So there's no comparison there. It’ll be a challenge of course, it’ll be the first time I’m leading in red-ball cricket for India. I've captained a few games in Ranji Trophy, but again, this is a different challenge. It’s something I’ve been really looking forward to. Really can’t wait,” he told reporters.
Rohit said he hadn’t set any targets for himself in Test cricket and had no regrets for his stop-start run as a player.
“I’ve set no targets for myself, but I’ve set my targets for the team. I’m not thinking too much about myself. I’ve played 40-odd matches; I’m happy to have played that many, and I’ve no regrets. There have been many injuries and ups and downs. The ups and downs teach you a lot as well.
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“I believe that one mustn’t think overly about the opposition, but instead, focus on your own team. Of course, we need to know some things about our opponents – how they bat and bowl, etc. But we needn’t focus on how they've performed in the last three Tests, where they won, where they lost. These things don’t matter to us. What matters is what I need to extract from my own players,” Rohit said.
‘ Credit to Kohli’
Rohit lauded Kohli for improving India as a Test team in the last few years.
“I’m looking forward to win matches and games as much as possible, and do the right things with the right players in the squad. That is the whole point. As a Test team, we at the moment stand in a very good position – if you look at the last five years of Test cricket, all credit goes to Virat Kohli, to get us going in this particular format. What he’s done with the Test team over the years was brilliant to see. And then, for me, I’ve to take it honestly, from where he has left. The team stands in a very good position. Of course, we’re [in the middle] in the World Test championship table (No. 5), but honestly, I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong in the last two or three years in Test cricket,” he said.
Rohit may be at the helm of affairs of an Indian team at the crossroads, with young players gradually edging out the old guard. But he clarified that the road hadn’t ended for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, neither of whom are part of the Test squad.
“What Pujara and Rahane have done for this team, can’t put it in words. All these years of hard work, playing 80-90 odd Test matches, respectively, so you know all those overseas Test victories – India getting to No. 1 in the Test format, these guys helped us in that situation. And these guys have played a big part in that. There’s no way these guys are not being looked upon in future. They will definitely be part of our plans. It’s just that, for now, we didn’t consider them, but there’s nothing written about them not being considered for any series hereafter,” he said.
‘ Not about one or two games’
And he asserted that the players replacing them in the team must be given a long run to prove their worth.
“Whenever there are changes in the squad, it’s always a fresh start for the guys who are coming in. It’s never easy. Those guys who are going to replace these two guys – Pujara and Rahane – those guys have done exceedingly well whenever they’ve gotten an opportunity, whether it’s first-class cricket back home or an India ‘A’ tour. And the limited opportunities they’ve got playing Test cricket.
“We need to back these guys to come good for us. At times we need to look forward and those guys have been waiting for a while now. So hopefully, if they get an opportunity, they can turn things around for us. It’s not about one or two games, but I’m looking at a number of years of them playing for India and doing well for us.
“These guys are the future of Indian cricket. And I think they need to be given a solid run for them to excel in this particular format. And yes, it’s important for us to do that it’ll start from the management to show enough support.”
‘ A great honour’
India’s first home Test of the year will be the 100th for Virat Kohli and the 300th for Sri Lanka. And it bodes well for both teams that up to 12,500 spectators will be at the venue to make noise and catch the action. Both Rohit and his Sri Lankan counterpart Dimuth Karunaratne were happy that spectators were being allowed for this contest.
“I heard the BCCI wasn’t allowing spectators for the first match, but I think they now see how important it is in our 300th game and Virat’s 100th Test [to have crowds]. It’s a good decision by the BCCI to allow 50 percent attendance,” Karunaratne said.
Karunaratne said it was an honour to captain his national team in such a landmark game. “It’s a great feeling for me, captaining the 300 Test match. That’s something I didn’t expect before I played. I came to know this only two-three days ago. That’s a great honour for me, captaining the 300 match, and I will try my best to give the best Test result for Sri Lanka.”
Asserting faith in his relatively inexperienced bunch of spinners, Karunaratne admitted his team did have plans for the young Indian batters replacing Pujara and Rahane in the squad. “Plans – those are secrets. We’re not supposed to tell the press. We have plans. We know some of the youngsters are playing, like Iyer, Shubman Gill. Those are guys who are supposed to fill in for Rahane and Pujara. So we have a few plans, and we’ll be trying to execute them.”