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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

India vs South Africa: Opening opportunity in Tests can be a double-edged sword for Rohit Sharma

6 years and 27 Test matches - and numerous other misses – after his Test debut, Rohit would finally, get to bat at a position which made him the toast of the cricket world in white-ball cricket.

cricket Updated: Sep 13, 2019 14:48 IST
Aritra Mukherjee
Aritra Mukherjee
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Will Rohit Sharma cement his place in the Test side?
Will Rohit Sharma cement his place in the Test side? (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rohit Sharma could not stop giggling… Hands clapping, head swaying back, the giggle soon turned into a laughter loud enough to draw the attention of the ministers sitting a row ahead. Sure seeing his limited overs opening partner Shikhar Dhawan talk about the future of Delhi Cricket with an unnatural and somewhat forced seriousness was the immediate cause behind Rohit’s ROFL moment but not a single person present in the weightlifting hall of New Delhi’s Jawarharlal Nehru Stadium had a doubt that the foundation for the same was laid earlier in the evening.

Barely a couple of hours ago Rohit Sharma was selected as a designated opener in India’s Test squad for the three-match series against South Africa starting on October 2.

Also Read: India full Test squad against South Africa

6 years and 27 Test matches - and numerous other misses – after his Test debut, Rohit would finally, get to bat at a position which made him the toast of the cricket world in white-ball cricket.

“Yes, he is keen and the selection committee as well as everyone in the team management is keen,” said the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad when asked about Rohit’s reaction to his elevation as India’s Test opener.

READ | Precocious Shubman Gill tipped to be man for all seasons

Why wouldn’t he be keen? It was the challenge that he first took on in 2011 in an ODI series against South Africa, failed – scoring only 29 runs in three innings - but came back stronger when asked again to face the new ball by then skipper MS Dhoni a couple of years later in 2013. Since then, Rohit has never looked back as a white ball opener.

The second chance was the key here, which Rohit might not get as a Test opener. “We are definitely looking at him (Rohit) and want to give him an opportunity up the order. We want to see where he stands and then take a call. We have seen that in white ball cricket and if he can replicate that in red ball cricket, nothing like it,” said Prasad, clearly indicating that the decision to push Rohit up the order is more in hope.

Of course, the selectors cannot be blamed. In the last 4 years, India have tried 10 different openers – Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Hanuma Vihari, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Prithvi Shaw, Parthiv Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir. Among these, only Shikhar Dhawan averaged (minimum 5 inns) more than 40 but his shortcomings in front of the moving ball forced the selectors to look elsewhere. And KL Rahul, the one Rohit will replace, averaged 36.82 in 33 Tests. “It’s unfortunate that Rahul’s form dipped in Tests. He scored in patches but not consistently,” added Prasad.

While Rahul did get a long rope, Rohit might not be as lucky if he fails against South Africa. Counting the Board President’s XI match, which Rohit is slated to lead, he will get 4 matches at best to impress the selectors as a permanent opener.

Prithvi Shaw, who scored 237 runs in only 3 innings including a sparkling hundred on debut is more or less certain to get his place back when his doping ban ends on November 15. India’s next assignment in red ball cricket is a two-match Test series against Bangladesh starting from November 14.

READ | DDCA renames Feroz Shah Kotla as Arun Jaitley stadium, unveils Virat Kohli stand

Shubman Gill, however, will be the man who will be pressing Rohit for a spot at the top even before Prithvi’s return. The talented Punjab right-hander, who scored a classy 90 in the unofficial test against South Africa A while opening the batting for India A, earned his maiden Test call-up as a back-up opener. “With regards to Shubman Gill, we are looking at him as an opener as well as middle-order batsman. As he keeps playing more and more, he will get opportunities because he is a player for all three formats,” said Prasad.

And if that was not enough, the selectors have made it clear that a lot of other openers are in the pipeline. “The alternate and backups are ready. We’ve created a pool of players for every position. Shubman is there, we’ve got Priyank Panchal and Easwaran who are doing extremely well in domestic cricket. So there’s no dearth of openers,” Prasad stated.

Unlike in ODIs, Rohit also doesn’t have the luxury of falling back to the middle order in Tests. The No. 5 spot has been cemented by vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari made sure no one even thinks about another No. 6 with his power-packed performance in the West Indies.

The good thing for Rohit, however, is that the matter will be in his hands at least till the South Africa series. It will be up to him to keep that same enthusiastic giggle on his face after a battle with the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi in a three-match series that has an undertone of redefining his Test career.

First Published: Sep 13, 2019 10:45 IST