Rohit Sharma can succeed as Test opener if he tightens his defence: Sunil Gavaskar

India Today

India Today

Author 2019-09-21 00:21:00

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Rohit Sharma is all set to open in Tests for the first time in the upcoming 3-match series vs South Africa (Reuters Photo)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Gavaskar feels Rohit can succeed as Test opener
  • Rohit is likely to open for India in Tests vs South Africa 
  • Gavaskar said Rohit needs to make good use of the opportunity vs South Africa

For the first six years of his ODI career, Rohit Sharma wasn't the 'Hitman' that he is today. He had the silken cover drive as well as the majestic pull but his ODI statistics mirrored his current staggered Test career numbers.

Rohit Sharma held an average of 30 in 81 ODI games until the then captain MS Dhoni came up with the idea of promoting him up the order in 2013.

Rohit took to opening like fish to water and is now a limited overs batting powerhouse. His cumulative average stands at 48.5 in 218 odis and has added 25 hundreds to his 2 in the middle order before 2013.

Indian cricket is hoping the switch to being promoted as a Test opener does the same magic to Rohit's long format returns. Currently, he averages 39.6 in 27 Test matches spread over the past six years, with just three fifties to show outside the subcontinent.

The challenge ahead of India's leading white-ball performer will be immense as the adage 'different ball game' will come alive when he fronts up against the red new ball.

India's all time great Test opener Sunil Gavaskar examines. "Look we know there is a difference between red and white ball. The white ball can stop swinging in five overs. With the kind of stitches on the red leather, you may find it swinging even after the 35 to 40 over mark.

"So facing up against swing is a different matter and he does struggle a bit against the incoming ball. Having said that, if his shot selection is good, he will be able to score in test cricket too," Gavaskar told India Today.

Unlike Rohit's promotion to opening in one day cricket which suited his stroke playing ways with the field in, elevating a middle order bat to facing the new ball can easily backfire. The team management as well as the selectors would have drawn inspiration from the Virender Sehwag experiment, India tried in 2001.

Gavaskar points out Rohit would need to tighten his defence to have hope of succeeding in Test cricket like Sehwag.

"When we talk about Rohit Sharma, he doesn't have the water tight defence like Virender Sehwag. But he perhaps has more shots than Sehwag. Sehwag would not hit the ball so much on the on side. Rohit can use the pull and hook very well. So Rohit does have more attacking shots. If he can tighten up his defence against the good balls, he can also be successful like Sehwag in Test cricket.

Sehwag's promotion to opening in Test cricket was at the then captain Sourav Ganguly's behest. With a packed middle order involving fab four, Ganguly had realised Sehwag's effectiveness could be wasted if he had to wait too long to break in. Rohit find himself in the same situation as Sehwag.

Wrong notion that Sehwag did not have a good defence: Gavaskar

However, Gavaskar objects to loose parallels being drawn between Rohit Sharma and Virender Sehwag only based on their attacking batting instincts.

"A lot of people have this wrong notion that Virender Sehwag did not have a defence. I have seen very few batsmen who would have the bat coming down as straight as it did with Sehwag while he was defending," Sunil Gavaskar added.

Gavaskar, highly impressed with Sehwag's defensive technique, can't help invoking a simile.

"The bat and pad would be so close, like one sees with newly-married couples. There would not be a gap of even an inch from which the ball can go through. He had a terrific defence. It's another matter that he would summon the defensive shot only if he was bored attacking," Gavaskar said.

Gavaskar does not rule out Rohit finding a way, if he can pull together one tall innings in the upcoming series against South Africa, starting October 2.

"With the way Hanuman Vihari has batted in the middle order, it's difficult to see Rohit Sharma making a comeback in the middle order currently.

So this is his best opportunity. We will know after a couple of Test matches. Visakhapatnam and Pune have good wickets. So if he can get one good innings going on these pitches, he could well end up opening in the next two or three years," Gavaskar said.

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