"Wanted to use the opportunity to the fullest. Otherwise, a lot would have been said and written (about my Test career). You folks write a lot about me. Now you will write some good things I hope."
Nearly the entire room chuckled as Rohit Sharma made this remark after Day 2 of the 3rd Test against South Africa in Ranchi.
Rohit Sharma was in the form of his life, with 648 runs, including five centuries, in the 2019 World Cup. It was now time to give white-ball cricket a breather and get into white flannels.
KL Rahul had been in a rut with and his failures in West Indies meant that it was untenable for him to continue as India's Test opener. Prithvi Shaw, who would have been an automatic replacement, did not do himself a favour by getting banned retrospectively for a year upon failing a dope test.
With the Indian team management on his side, it was now time for Rohit to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top and prove his mettle in the longest format of the game as well. He would get a fair run too, with three Test matches against South Africa and two against Bangladesh in conditions that he was born and brought up in. Everything seemed in place for the Mumbai batsman to carry his white-ball form into Test cricket and the opener did that, and more.
With twin centuries in his first Test as opener, Rohit Sharma made a statement. After a glitch in Pune, he was back to his imperious best in Ranchi, not only racking up his maiden double ton in Tests but also answering all the questions that have lurked in cricketing circles over his technique.
Can he face the new ball? Can he counter the swing and seam? Can he cover the line of the ball? Can he restrain himself from playing his natural game when bowlers are on top? Can he avoid going at the ball with hard hands? Can he keep his cool when runs aren't coming quickly?
Rohit Sharma did all that in his landmark innings. After all, he had been 9 off 39 deliveries at one stage. But the 32-year-old survived the first session when Kagiso Rabada, in particular, was hooping the ball around corners, and patiently got himself to his double century.
These concerns were not without reason. Most experiments of trying white-ball specialists as Test openers around the world had failed. Each of Jason Roy, Martin Guptill, Aaron Finch and Alex Hales had talked about playing a positive brand of cricket and translating their white-ball success in Test matches but had to be dropped from the Test side after repeated failures.
Even David Warner, who had remained an exception to the norm, had just had a terrible Ashes series and all of that was stacked against Rohit cumulatively.
But Rohit answered with his bat and settled the discussion for the time being. Even those backing the Mumbaikar could not have expected such exorbitant returns.
"I realised you need to have discipline at the start of the innings. Once you are in, you can play your game. That's what I have done, I follow a certain template that allows me to have some success."
When Rohit Sharma started the series, his Test average was just under 40 from 27 Test matches. After six years of Test cricket, he had managed only three 50s outside the subcontinent. In a matter of just three matches, the numbers look drastically different with the average having jumped to 48.04. Quite possibly, just one more big knock will see him coast past 50.
In fact, in the 2019-2021 ICC World Test Championship cycle, Rohit averages the most and is the second-highest run-scorer, just behind Steve Smith, with 529 runs from 4 innings at an average of 132.25, including two centuries and one double-century. What's even more exciting is that his strike rate of 77.45 is also the highest in the chart, after Colin de Grandhomme, who has played only one inning.
That Sharma has brilliant numbers at home with an average of 99.84 from 12 matches is nothing to be frowned upon. Even other Indian batsmen who had been tried at the opening slot in the last couple of years have similarly different stats home and way.
Murali Vijay averages 47.02 at home as opposed to his overall average of 38.28. KL Rahul has an average of 44.25 at home compared to his overall average of 34.5. Even Shikhar Dhawan has a slightly higher average at home with 44.37 vis-a-vis his career average of 40.61. It is also to be noted here that each of these players lost their place in the Test side on the team's overseas Test jaunts.
It is true that Rohit's numbers outside the subcontinent are not great, with him averaging 31 in Australia, 17 in England, 40.67 in New Zealand and 15.38 in South Africa but with the technique and temperament he has shown in the home series against South Africa, there is every reason to believe that the stats will change.
Quite obviously, it is unlikely that the numbers overseas will be as good as at home and the Indian ODI vice-captain knows that.
Although he rated his maiden Test double ton as his most challenging knock in his 30-match Test career, he knows that the litmus test still awaits. “I’m not reading too much into these runs. In overseas, of course, it’s a different ball game. That’s a challenge I’m waiting for."
The awaited challenge begins with a two-match Test series on India's tour of New Zealand in February 2020. Let's wait and watch
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