When Rohit Sharma was selected over Cheteshwar Pujara for the one-off Test against Bangladesh, eyebrows were raised and social media had a meltdown.
But that was the first sign new India Test captain Virat Kohli has confidence in Rohit.
The surprises didn’t end there. At the fall of opener Shikhar Dhawan’s wicket, it was Rohit who walked out to bat at No.3. It was just the third time in his Test career that he had done it. It suggested Kohli has his plans for India’s batting line-up.
Yes, Rohit hasn’t done well in Tests in the last one and half years but the fact that Pujara isn’t performing well has flipped the balance in Rohit’s favour. Pujara – who captained the India A side against Australia in the recent two-match series – made just 119 runs from four innings at 29.75.
Ahead of the Sri Lanka series, Rohit has received a huge shot in the arm as Kohli has come out in his support. The captain has also assured him of the No.3 position in the line-up.
This, in fact, might be a win-win situation for all. This will be the first full series that Kohli will be captaining the Test side and his first opportunity to test his own theories. It doesn’t take an Einstein’s brain to know that Kohli is an aggressive personality and there is a reason why he’s banking on Rohit at No.3.
“We figured out that Rohit is an impact player who can get the runs quickly. If he settles in, he can take a session away from the opposition and give us that extra time to get 20 wickets,” Kohli told reporters at the pre-tour press conference in Chennai on 2 August.
The opportunity to bat at No.3 gives Rohit a chance to prove himself in the Test arena once and for all. Unlike in the limited overs format, Rohit’s place is in the Test side hangs in the balance and he knows it. “I stand in a very tricky position in Tests,” he said.
And for good reason. In the last one and half years (from Jan 2014 till date), Rohit has averaged 27.91 from 13 innings with just two fifty-plus scores.
He knows a Test spot is difficult to achieve. “It is very priceless,” Rohit had told bcci.tv earlier about his spot in the Test side. “It is very close to me. I don’t want to let go of it so easily. I had to wait for five-six years before making my debut.”
Rohit has the ability to get daddy hundreds. He has done it in the Ranji Trophy, he has done it in ODIs where he is the only batsman to hit two double hundreds. We’ve seen him get 177 on Test debut against West Indies. And coming in at No. 3 will allow him to get set and then get the ball rolling, much like he does while opening in ODIs.
“He has done well in Australia when he has batted at three,” Kohli said [Ed’s note: Rohit made 55 and 39 batting at No. 3 in Sydney]. “I think he needs to get more opportunity there. Once he settles there, he could be the catalyst in the middle order. “He can keep the scoring rate going. He is so naturally gifted that once he gets in, he has got massive scores for Mumbai. We want to give him that game time and give him ample opportunity to get that big score and in quick time.”
It should be noted that in over the last 18 months, Rohit has struggled batting at No.6, with an average of just 16.42 from seven innings. So this change might be beneficial for him. There might be an argument that the Mumbai batsman averages a mediocre 32.66 at no. 3 but he’s batted just three innings in that position. He needs a longer run before we can draw definitive conclusions.
Over the course of eleven Tests in his career so far, Rohit hasn’t had a fixed batting position. He’s batted at No.3 (two matches), No.5 (four matches) and No.6 (six matches). With Kohli assuring him of the crucial No. 3 position, it gives Rohit clarity while also boosting his confidence.
And it seems that he’s already started preparing the Sri Lanka series blueprint in his mind. He knows his role is that of an aggressor and he’s been watching videos of Virender Sehwag’s swashbuckling double century against Sri Lanka that powered India to a win in 2008 at Galle.
“It was there when Sehwag was playing that innings – I feel that’s the way to approach batting,” Rohit said. “He looked to take on the opposition and he dominated the bowlers. I will go in with that sort of mindset and will look to dominate, irrespective of the situation I am in.”
The word ‘talented’ has been used to describe Rohit a billion times over. Hopefully, with the no.3 position firmly in his grasp, he will finally do justice to that tag in the longest format of the game.