‘Sehwag is Sehwag,’ Rohit Sharma reacts to comparisons with former India opener
There is no doubt—Rohit Sharma is enjoying his finest season as an India batsman. Five centuries to top the batting charts at the World Cup in England,only whetted his appetite as he made light of his start as a Test opener, 12 seasons into his India career, by amassing 529 runs at an average of 132.25 against South Africa.
He will switch from the red-ball game to white-ball, this time as captain—Sharma is the stand-in skipper for the T20s against Bangladesh starting here on Sunday—and could well be the first to put bat to ball when India begin their life in pink-ball Tests at the Eden Gardens on November 22.
It is Sharma’s instant success as Test opener that has caught the imagination of the cricket world, and comparisons with Virender Sehwag as a middle-order batsman who dominated new-ball attacks in Tests, have only built expectations. Sharma doesn’t exactly see a mirror image, but is particularly happy to be spoken in the same breath as his once senior teammate.
“It is people’s perception that we bat in a similar fashion and all that,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “But Sehwag is Sehwag. What he has done is remarkable. For me what will be important is what the team is expecting me to do, if I am able to do that I’ll be more than happy. Of course, Sehwag played in a way he loved to, and the team wanted him to play. It is the same situation for me here as well. I want to play in that fashion where the team wants me to play. And if I am able to do that, I solve a lot of problems.”
Sharma, speaking after being unveiled as brand ambassador of global sports brand Trusox, said the short break following the South Africa Tests, which Virat Kohli’s side swept 3-0, has helped him process his success as a Test opener.
“Whatever I thought I wanted to do on the field I managed to do, more than not, because it may not always happen…” he said. “You feel proud when you think of doing things and you are able to achieve most of it. That is what I felt when the series got over and I went home, just to lie down and think about it. I felt very happy.”
Although his Test career as a middle-order batsman never really took off, does Sharma feel he could have put his hand up for the opener’s job much earlier?
“See, the talk was happening for a long, long time. But all these guys were doing well and you suddenly don’t want to change that and get somebody who has not done that before,” he said. “Now that they tried a lot of players and wanted someone else to do it, that is why this happened. I know that if one of the openers, or a few of them, were doing well, I would not have got this opportunity. But somewhere down the line I felt that this might come to me. So far, so good, there are a lot of challenges ahead and I’m looking forward to them.”
He was finally sounded out during the West Indies tour, where he sat out due to a crowded middle-order as Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari impressed.
“Coach Ravi Shastri told me ‘you might be opening the batting in the next series, so prepare in that fashion; there is a Board President’s XI game also before the Test series, why don’t you go and play?’ Of course, it was for my good only, although I lasted only two balls,” he said.
What was it like for him to open in Tests for the very first time?
“For me the challenge is taking the shine off the ball. If I manage to survive that it will be interesting, and that is what the management also felt. That to me was very crucial in terms of how I am going to go forward,” he said. “The thought process has to be very simple. If I’m thinking positive, positive things will happen around me. If I’m in a conservative mindset, thinking of survival, only try and do a lot of right things, it’s not going to happen. I have to counterattack, put pressure back on the bowlers. Those are the aspects I need to be mindful of.”
The pink-ball game at Eden Gardens will be a fresh test, before the tour to New Zealand next year when swing and seam will be the challenge.
“I’ve played in a (pink ball) Duleep Trophy game (in 2016), but batted down the order. It was a new experience,” he said. “We’ve waited for long and now have the opportunity.”