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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

Batting ahead of Virat vital to Rohit’s Test career boost | Opinion

This move makes a lot of sense. As a One-Day opener, Rohit has established himself as the next most dangerous batsman to Kohli. The move to opening means Rohit bats ahead of Kohli in Test matches and this is crucial to revitalising his career in the longer format.

cricket Updated: Oct 14, 2019 08:24 IST
Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Hindustan Times
File image of Rohit Sharma
File image of Rohit Sharma(PTI)
         

Many fans will nod knowingly and exclaim; “I’ve seen this script before—Rohit Sharma starts out with a bang in Test cricket.” However, unlike a regurgitated version of an old movie, this script has a new twist; Rohit opened for the first time. On Test debut, Rohit scored a century against West Indies and followed up with another one in the next match. On both occasions he batted at six, behind the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.

When he recently debuted as a Test opener against South Africa, he scored twin centuries against a strong attack headed by Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander. As an opener, he preceded Kohli, which could be an important factor in whether this incarnation of Rohit is a success or a failure.

After his triumphant 2013 entrance into the Test arena, Rohit gradually faded to the point where it took him another 35 innings to reach three figures again. His moderate success in the intervening period meant he was in and out of the Indian side without ever cementing a spot in the batting line-up.

Most of those innings were played at either five or six but in what appears to be a last ditch effort to resurrect his five-day career, he was promoted to open in the first Test against South Africa.

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RICHARDS vs GREENIDGE

This move makes a lot of sense. As a One-Day opener, Rohit has established himself as the next most dangerous batsman to Kohli. The move to opening means Rohit bats ahead of Kohli in Test matches and this is crucial to revitalising his career in the longer format.

There appeared to be two things holding Rohit back at Test level; he was unsure what type of player he should be and at times he seemed overawed by Kohli’s glowing presence.

This was not the fault of Rohit’s skipper but a result of Kohli’s enormous popularity among Indian fans. The raucous response to Kohli’s appearance at the crease is enough to intimidate the best of players and Rohit’s predicament is one I’ve witnessed before.

Whenever Viv Richards entered the arena I felt Australia’s chances of removing West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge improved. Greenidge was a very fine batsman—he probably never realised how good—but such was Richards’ aura that Gordon appeared to shrink in his presence.

Batting Rohit ahead of Kohli affords him the opportunity to establish himself before the skipper arrives at the crease. This in turn diminishes any adverse effect the crowd’s infatuation with Kohli is likely to have on Rohit.

The other advantage to Rohit opening is it paints a clear picture of how he should play. He obviously needs to be watchful at first but there’s also plenty of opportunity to score quickly with the field up. If Rohit does get a start it then means he’s more at ease when facing spinners with some runs under his belt.

This paid big dividends during his twin centuries as he clouted an inordinate number of sixes in that Test. This is in sharp contrast to some Test innings I’ve seen him play down the order where, early in his innings, he’s committed hari-kari in trying to establish his authority over the spinners.

The Indian selectors deserve credit for this calculated gamble to resurrect Rohit’s career. No doubt their main priority was to help India win Test matches but the longer form of the game needs every available exciting player.

Rohit is a very watchable batsman. When I first saw him play his horizontal bat shots in a 2008 ODI series against Australia, I thought; “Boy, this kid can really play.”

The fact that eleven years later he’s still trying to establish himself as a Test batsman is perplexing. However, if this latest move works it will not only help India but also Test cricket because, even though he’s no longer a kid, he still entertains the fans.