Owning a ground statistically doesn’t happen quickly, certainly not without a great Test record. Ask Brian Lara who practically lords over the Antigua Recreation Ground, or Mahela Jayawardene who has the most Test runs at the SSC, Colombo.
VVS Laxman’s name is still taken in the same breath as Eden Gardens, but of late, spectators here have been swooning to the bat swing of Rohit Sharma. If there is a match at Eden that involves Rohit, he will score heavily. That includes Tests as well.
For all the talk that Rohit gets an unusually long rope in Tests, Kolkata must be a place where he should back himself most. He has two Test centuries to his name. Both came in the two farewell Tests of Sachin Tendulkar in Kolkata and Mumbai three years ago. With Tendulkar finally retiring, there was a need to construct a new middle order by promoting Virat Kohli to No 4 and finding a solid No 5.
By the time he was handed a debut in Kolkata, Rohit had already spent six years in international cricket. He was never going to be a like-for-like replacement but given his imperious form in shorter formats, many assumed his transition to Test cricket would be seamless. The assumption was short-lived.
When his first two innings read 177 and an unbeaten 111, it instantly put out a lot of doubt. In a month’s time when he was asked to face South Africa in Johannesburg, Rohit’s vulnerability outside off-stump was quickly exposed. From South Africa to New Zealand, and then England followed by Australia, he could only muster two fifties in eight Tests. When he scored two fifties in last year’s Sri Lanka tour, he was again thought to be back on track. But a lean run in the ensuing home series against South Africa buried those hopes.
Call it stroke of luck or Kohli’s vociferous support, Rohit has still managed to stay in the reckoning. Despite all the criticism he has one of the best wrists in the game. Stray on his pads or try to bounce him, he can put almost every delivery to sword. Outside the off-stump though, he looks inexplicably confused. Of his 30 dismissals in Test cricket, five have come through lbw. The rest have all been either caught or bowled.
Making his case worse is Rohit’s habit of throwing away good starts. Like his dismissal in the first innings in Kanpur when he was lured into a loose chip by Mitchell Santner after scoring a painstaking 35. The unbeaten 68 in the second innings though was a timely breather.
For two Tests now --- St Lucia, where he had scored 41, and Kanpur --- Rohit has been instrumental in helping India set a huge target in the last innings. But without a good score in the first innings, he can’t lay claim on the No 5 position for a long time. That is where knowing Eden Gardens like the back of his hand could come of some use.