India vs South Africa, 1st Test: Golden chance for Rohit, Saha and Ashwin to prove a point

Rohit Sharma is a limited-overs great. Ever since he was promoted to open the innings in the shorter formats in 2013, Rohit Sharma has gone on to rewrite record books. His exploits in limited-overs cricket are as impactful as Virat Kohli’s.

However, in whites, Rohit Sharma has struggled. More often than not, his technique (or the lack of it) against the red ball has been exposed, especially in overseas conditions. His average at home is a staggering 85.44 when compared to 26.32 on the road.

Despite numbers favouring him at home, Rohit Sharma was never able to cement a spot in the Test set-up. For all his greatness in white-ball cricket, his inability to deal with the longest format of the game has been an enigma.

At 32, Rohit Sharma has now got a golden opportunity to begin new innings in Tests, this time as an opener.

While teams around the world are struggling to get their opening combinations right, India have placed their bet on Rohit Sharma. In fact, they have gambled on arguably their best white-ball batsman of this decade.

Rohit Sharma last opened in a first-class match in 2012-13 against Punjab in a Ranji Trophy match. 7 years later, Rohit was out for a duck in the dress rehearsal for his Test opener role-in the Board President’s XI vs South Africa match last month.

It is safe to say, it’s a do-or-die opportunity for Rohit Sharma to revive his Test career. The middle-order slots are full with Hanuma Vihari rising up the latter and Ajinkya Rahane finding form. With youngsters, including Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, waiting in the wings, Rohit has to deliver and deliver quickly.

Captain Virat Kohli’s words on the eve of the 1st Test though should have come as some kind of a confidence booster for Rohit Sharma. The skipper said Rohit will get enough time to settle into his role and that he wants him to follow his natural instincts.

It is easier said than done but India’s gamble might work. Rohit Sharma has been in a brilliant space of mind in limited-overs cricket over the last few years. The record-setting tally of 5 hundred at the 2019 World Cup speaks volumes of Rohit’s uncluttered mind at the moment. Will it bring him success in Tests? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it is also time for comeback R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha to return to the playing XI. While Saha had been out with multiple injuries since the away Tests in South Africa in 2018, Ashwin had been bogged down by injury concerns on important overseas tours.

Ashwin entered an important phase in his career where he had to become the matchwinner that he was at home on the road as well. He started India’s tour of England on a high, picking up 7 wickets in the Birmingham Test. However, when he was needed the most-in the 4th Test in Southampton with India trailing 1-2 — Ashwin’s body let him and the team down.

Limited-overs omission did play in his mind but he focussed on getting his red ball skill right with some fine performances in the county championships earlier this year. Ashwin had to wait longer to return to the senior national team, having spent his time in West Indies warming the benches.

Ashwin will be keen on proving a point and expect him to do well in what has been his favourite hunting ground over the years.

On the other hand, Saha, at 34, has been trusted to get the job done behind the wickets for another time after a career-threatening injury and its mismanagement over the last 18 months.
Saha’s return coincides with under-fire Rishabh Pant’s poor returns across the formats but it is the ever-reliable glovework that has got him the nod.

Captain Virat Kohli certainly is a fan of Saha’s glovework. “Saha was always someone who we would back as a pure keeper in Test cricket. He’s done well under pressure situations for us. It was all about finding the right opportunity and the moment to bring him back in,” Virat Kohli said on the eve of the 1st Test.

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