Why getting Rohit Sharma to open in Tests is a good move
Many fans will nod knowingly and say, "I've seen this script before: Rohit Sharma starts out with a bang in Test cricket."
However, unlike a regurgitated version of an old movie, this script has a new twist: Rohit recently opened for the first time. On Test debut he scored a century against West Indies and followed up with another one in the next match. On both occasions he batted at six, behind the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.
ALSO READ: Wasim Jaffer: Play straight and compact, Rohit
When he recently debuted as a Test opener against South Africa, Rohit scored twin centuries against a strong attack headed by Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander. As an opener, he came in ahead of Kohli, which could be an important factor in whether this incarnation of Rohit is a success or a failure.
After his triumphant 2013 entrance into the Test arena, Rohit gradually faded to the point where it took him another 35 innings to reach three figures again. His moderate success in the intervening period meant he was in and out of the Indian side without ever cementing a spot in the batting line-up.
Most of those innings were played at either five or six, but in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to resurrect his five-day career, he was promoted to open in the first Test against South Africa.
ALSO READ: Chappell: Kohli's and Rohit's divergent paths to batting glory (2016)
This move makes a lot of sense. As a one-day opener Rohit has established himself as the next most dangerous batsman to his team-mate Kohli. The move to opening means that he bats ahead of Kohli in Test matches, and this is crucial to revitalising his career in the longer format.
There appeared to be two things holding Rohit back at Test level: he seemed unsure about what type of player he should be, and at times he seemed overawed by Kohli's glowing presence.
This was not the fault of the captain; just a result of Kohli's enormous popularity among Indian fans. The raucous response to his appearance at the crease is enough to intimidate the best players.
Rohit's predicament is one I've witnessed before. Whenever Viv Richards entered the arena, I felt Australia's chances of removing West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge improved. Greenidge was a very fine batsman - he probably never realised how good - but such was Richards' aura that Greenidge appeared to shrink in his presence.
Batting Rohit ahead of Kohli affords him the opportunity to establish himself before the captain arrives at the crease. This, in turn, diminishes any adverse effect the crowd's infatuation with Kohli is likely to have on Rohit.
ALSO READ: Samiuddin: What I think about when I watch Kohli and Rohit
The other advantage to Rohit opening is, it paints for him a clear picture of how he should play. He obviously needs to be watchful at first, but there's also plenty of opportunity to score quickly with the field up. If he does get a start, it then means he's more at ease when facing spinners with some runs under his belt.
This paid big dividends during his twin centuries in Vizag. He clouted an inordinate number of sixes in that Test. This is in sharp contrast to some Test innings I've seen him play down the order, where, early in his innings, he has committed hara-kiri in trying to establish his authority over the spinners.
The Indian selectors deserve credit for this calculated gamble to resurrect Rohit's career. No doubt their main priority was to help India win Test matches, but the longer form of the game needs every available exciting player.
Rohit is a very watchable batsman. When I first saw him play his horizontal-bat shots in a 2008 ODI series against Australia, I thought, "Boy, this kid can really play."
The fact that 11 years later he is still trying to establish himself as a Test batsman is perplexing. However, if this latest move works, it will help not only India but also Test cricket, because, even though he's no longer a kid, Rohit still entertains the fans.