On debut Rohit Sharma smashed 177 against West Indies at the Eden Gardens in 2013 and followed it up with 111 at the Wankhede in Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test – giving the idea that Test cricket would not be that difficult a proposition for the stylish Mumbaikar.
Since then he’s played 27 Test matches with a total of three centuries and an average of 39.62 and has not been a regular feature in the team, while in white-ball cricket he has established himself as one of the most dangerous batsmen and one of the first names on the team sheet.
In first class cricket, just like the way he began his Test career, Rohit pressed for higher things with two centuries in the 2008-09 Ranji final, a feat previously achieved by Sachin Tendulkar and only four others before him.
He made his Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai in the 2006–07 and scored 205 off 267 balls against Gujarat. Mumbai went on to win the tournament with Rohit scoring a half-century (57) in his second innings in the final against Bengal.
Rohit has spent his entire domestic first-class career at Mumbai. In December 2009, he made his highest career score of 309 (not out) in the Ranji Trophy against Gujarat. In October 2013, upon the retirement of Ajit Agarkar, he was appointed team captain.
Red ball international cricket and Rohit Sharma did not make the best combination till 2017 due to his patchy form, but it was the tour of South Africa from wherein the graph took a downward turn and since has not changed directions.
For the Mumbaikar, who is undoubtedly a fine attacking batsman in the shorter formats, it is make or break time in Test cricket against the visiting South Africans.
Picked in place of an out-of-favour KL Rahul, Rohit has the backing of quite a few stalwarts to finally cement his place in the side.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly also put his weight behind Rohit, and said it was a suggestion he had made earlier as well.
Before the team was picked for the upcoming home series, in his column for Times of India Ganguly reiterated, “I had suggested earlier about trying Rohit Sharma as an opener in Test cricket and I still believe that he needs to be given an opportunity because he is too good a player to be left out in the cold. After a fantastic World Cup, I believe he will be itching to grab the opportunity to open in Tests.”
Rohit is expected to bring a Virender Sehwag like impact at the top of the batting order in Tests, and the man himself acknowledged that Rohit needs to be given a consistent run.
“His (Rohit) record is not that bad. He started off very well. How many Tests has he played? If he’s given a consistent run, he will improve,” Sehwag told Times of India. “Yeh mauka ka khel hai (this is a game of opportunity). Aapko mauka pe chauka marna hai (you have to hit a four when given the chance).”
The often straight talking Gautam Gambhir also weighed in about his former teammate playing Test cricket and said, “He has been a sensational player in the shorter formats, but let’s accept it, the series against South Africa will be make-or-break for him as far as Test cricket is concerned,” Gambhir said while speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange programme.
“If you select him in the Test squad, make him open because I have always maintained that he is too good a player to be sitting out. If there’s no place for him in the middle order, he should take up the opportunity and open… because the way I see it, if Rohit has to play Test cricket, he must open,” the former India opener added.
That’s not all, former India cricketer Dilip Vengsarkar, also known as Colonel, is of the opinion that Rohit simply needs a platform to kick off from.
“To make him bat in the opening position or No. 3 or 4 doesn’t really make much of a difference. It is just about the mental state. It is a good thing that he will be opening; he will get a dedicated slot to bat in. “He is a world-class player and has proved it. Give him a platform, and he will perform,” Vengsarkar told Mid-day.
Former Australian wicket-keeper batsman Adam Gilchrist, who was in New Delhi before MSK Prasad announced that Rohit Sharma would play as an opener against the Proteas, believes that there is nothing that can get in his way from being successful.
“When the Indian team is playing at home, Rohit can most definitely play as an opener. It might be more challenging when touring Australia, South Africa and England. If Rohit wants to be an opener, there is no reason why he cannot succeed. But it would take a change in his mindset, in his batting approach, particularly overseas. He’s got to want to do it, no one should force him.”
There is without doubt that everyone is backing Rohit Sharma, a middle-order batsman in Tests, to come good against the new ball in what is essentially a step-up just like Ganguly had pushed Sehwag up the order.
However, there are also voices of apprehensions. Former coach and captain Anil Kumble had expressed his reservations of using Rohit as an opener and said that opening in Tests is different as compared to white-ball cricket.
“I am not really sure about pushing Rohit at the top unless it is a desperate situation. Yes, are we in a desperate situation where we are looking for an opener in someone who has done well at the domestic level, is it worth considering that or should Rohit, Yes, he is a high-quality player sitting on the bench, should he be pushed at the top?” Kumble told Cricketnext in an exclusive interview.
“I mean those things you need to start looking. Yes, he certainly has the experience, he certainly has the ability to bat anywhere in the batting line-up. Opening the batting in Test matches I think is a bit different to opening in ODIs but having said that, you’ll only know when you push him into that situation.”
The Mumbaikar, who during one of his toughest times in Test cricket in South Africa said he does not need to change his approach, has been afforded an additional chance to get used to the red-ball when he leads the Boards President’s XI against South Africa before the three Test match series begins.
The Chief of Selectors MSK Prasad and the management are backing him to the hilt and said, “Yes, we are definitely looking (at Rohit) as an opener, and we want to give him an opportunity,” Prasad said in New Delhi after announcing the squad for the three Tests. “He is keen, and all of us in the selection committee are keen too. We want to push him, and give him some opportunities up the order, and see where he stands, and then we will take a call. He will get a fair run.
“He has been opening in white-ball cricket for more than a decade. We feel he has the capability to bat up the order, we have seen that in white-ball cricket, and if he can do that in red-ball cricket, then nothing like it. We have a lot of practice matches coming up, which will be a boost to this side.”
It is quite literally now or never for Rohit’s relationship with Test cricket with the likes of Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada in the other corner, quite like 2017. Turning the tables and his fortunes is very much on him.