Perfect arrival on the Test scene

Greeting the heroes... Indian captain M. S. Dhoni congratulates Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Shami at the end of the Kolkata Test.-PTI

The stand-out performances of both Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Shami in their first Test augur well for Indian cricket. A batsman, seemingly living up to his touted potential, and a fast bowler, swinging, reversing and knocking out stumps, are gifts that need to be savoured, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

This November, it is all about wallowing in nostalgia and suffering a sense of loss as Sachin Tendulkar walks away but it is not entirely dusk in Indian cricket.

Amidst Tendulkar-induced gloom, there are also a few stirrings of joy and the cliched ‘life-goes-on’ line cropped up in the recent Kolkata Test. The match started with Sachin-mania but when it concluded in three days, the contest was all about the sheer delight of seeing two debutants — Rohit Sharma and Mohammad Shami — hold centre-stage.

An appraisal is in order and it is in the fitness of things that the gaze shifts to Rohit first.

Until recently, any evaluation of the 26-year-old Mumbaikar was stained with a sense of betrayal caused by the mismatch between the overwhelming faith invested in him and the inversely proportional runs that he granted the team.

The first flashback is all about a talented India under-19 player, who jumped the rungs and was part of the national team that won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007. And then he lost his way much to the chagrin of those who thought that he was next in the line of great Mumbai batsmen that had as his immediate predecessors — Tendulkar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sunil Gavaskar.

Rohit’s slow revival happened after he was omitted from the Indian squad that won the 2011 World Cup. “Whether you are in form or out of form you got to just keep working hard,” he quipped at that low-point.

And once he was promoted as an opener in ODIs, starting with the game against England in Mohali earlier this year, Rohit’s resurgence was complete.

Prior to that contest, he had scored 1978 runs averaging 30.43 in 81 ODIs. And remarkably after the promotion, he amassed 1071 in a mere 22 games while averaging a stupendous 59.50. Two hundreds in the games against Australia were signals of his ominous form and none was bigger than the 209 he cracked against George Bailey’s men in Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Surely, the recent upswing in his fortunes — be it his elevation as captain of Mumbai Indians or his promotion as an opener in ODIs — bred a missing link into his repertoire: ‘responsibility.’

Rohit had missed making his Test debut against South Africa in Nagpur in 2010 after suffering a freak injury minutes before the game but Kolkata was different. The tide turned.

Tendulkar handed Rohit his Test cap, the feel-good factor of the Bangalore double ton was still fresh and when he walked in to bat, Test cricket’s cauldron of pressure was on the boil — India hobbling at 82 for four! The stage tested him on twin parameters — talent and temperament. The first he obviously had, the second, he had to prove and he precisely did that with a historic 177.

It won the match for India besides gaining approval of his skipper and happy nods from four gentlemen, who at one point were indispensable in the Indian middle-order — Tendulkar (still a player), Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman (all three are now commentators).

“There was this phase when things were not going my way but I never let it affect me. I just waited and kept working on my game,” Rohit said. All that hard-work finally seems to have paid.

If Rohit oscillated between potential and performance before finding the golden mean in Bangalore and Kolkata, Shami has quickly slipped into the Indian colours and has felt at home. Hailing from Sahaspur in Uttar Pradesh, Shami moved to Kolkata and soon the Bengal seamer was knocking on the Indian team’s doors. He held his own in the few ODIs against England and even in that run-drenched match against Australia in Bangalore where Rohit reigned, Shami’s combined spells read a creditable 8.1-0-52-3.

The 23-year-old sparkled in his debut Test in Kolkata and his match-figures of nine for 118, that blended reverse swing and pegged back stumps, was a welcome sign in a land renowned for spin.

The irony got multiplied because at the receiving end were the West Indians, who in their pomp, had rattled many a batting line-up with brutal pace.

Indian cricket’s pace history is a modest one that rested heavily on Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh in its formative years before finding solace in Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan over the last four decades. Now, Shami has made a mark with his swing allied with speed, clocking in the zone between 135 kmph to 145 kmph.

In Kolkata, his length was perfect for the delivery to reveal its wicked intentions and the West Indies skipper Darren Sammy pointed that out: “When he was reversing into the right-hander, he started on a good length, outside the off-stump, hitting the stumps.”

Hailing from a modest background, Shami has found his way on the twin planks of self-belief and perseverance. Hopefully he is there for keeps because many Indian speedsters have lost their way due to injuries and poor form and the list is rather long.

The stand-out performances of both Rohit and Shami in their first Test augur well for Indian cricket.

A batsman, seemingly living up to his touted potential, and a fast bowler, swinging, reversing and knocking out stumps, are gifts that need to be savoured. In these times of transition and departures, the duo’s arrival is the perfect post-Diwali news.