As unpredictable as Test match cricket is, there are certain things about it that seem inevitable. For a while now, Rohit Sharma scoring an overseas Test century had been one such thing.

It started about eight months ago, when he got scores of 26, 52 and 44 in Australia. Then in the World Test Championship final in June, when he scored 34 and 30 in the two innings. And it continued in the ongoing series against England as well.

Rohit in the 2021 Test series in England

Runs scored Balls faced
1st Test, 1st innings 36 107
1st Test, 2nd innings 12* 34
2nd Test, 1st innings 83 145
2nd Test, 2nd innings 21 36
3rd Test, 1st innings 19 105
3rd Test, 2nd innings 59 156
4th Test, 1st innings 11 27
4th Test, 2nd innings 127 256

It wasn’t so much about the runs he was getting but more about the number of balls he was facing and the manner in which he was going about his business at the crease. His pedigree in white-ball cricket needs no introduction, he’s one of the greatest-ever ODI openers. He can score all around the field and his shot-making sets him apart.

Which is precisely why his performances in Test cricket this year felt so promising. The flair never vanished, but it wasn’t the main story anymore. The defining feature of his batting wasn’t the jaw-dropping shot-making, it was his forward defence and patience.

This new Rohit Sharma never seems to be in a hurry. He’ll leave almost everything outside off and defend right under his nose, with soft hands. He’ll sprinkle in contenders for shot-of-the-day every now and then, at times his aggressive instincts will prove costly too, but for the most part, he’ll look like he’s batting on his own terms.

Of course, he isn’t alone in showing patience as a batsman. But the thing is that when a stroke-maker as gifted as him decides that his sole focus will be to stay at the crease for as long as possible, then you know that great achievements, like an overseas Test ton, are only a matter of time.

And so, his century on day three of the fourth Test against England felt like a natural culmination to every bit of effort he had put in this year. He defended, and defended, and defended some more. And when the time was right, he picked his boundaries. It was an exhibition of that perfect balance of caution and aggression that he has found as a batsman. The hallmark of Rohit Sharma, the Test opener.

Rohit after scoring a century against England in the Oval Test:

“Speaking of an overseas hundred, it was never on my mind. What I was focussing on was the process. I know the runs will come if I do that. If I believe in the hard work I do in practice sessions then I know the results will come. You will be rewarded. It’s just that at times you need to be patient. And I think I’ve been very patient. I was trusting what I was doing all this while and I was happy doing it. Sometimes, things don’t come easily and you have to put in those hard yards. I was happy to do that.

“The most pleasing aspect of this knock was that I was able to play 250 balls (256, to be precise). I’ve played nearly 100 balls in every innings in this series. And that was my goal – to try and stay at the crease for as long as possible. Spending time in the middle has been the biggest takeaway for me in the last four games that I’ve played.

“There’s a massive difference between ODIs and Tests in terms of batsmanship. The most important thing you need to bring into your game is discipline. That is something I’ve focused a lot on. Off the field, when you’re in the nets, discipline is something that I wanted to bring into my batting. Whether it is leaving the ball or having a tight defence. I added all these things to my game when I was preparing for this tour. I even spoke with a lot of players who have played here and done well, it helped me a great deal.”

Before the start of this series, Rohit sat down for a chat with Dinesh Karthik on Sky Sports Cricket. That interview ended with Karthik asking him what he wanted to achieve in the five Tests.

“I just want us to win,” replied Rohit. “I’m not worried about how many runs I’ll get or how many hundreds I need to score. I just want to win here… for me it’s all about winning championships now, Dinesh. Not about how much I get. I just want to win championships man.”

So far this series, Rohit has walked the talk. His determination at the crease and understated celebration after getting his first overseas Test century have been a testament to that. It isn’t merely about fours, sixes and runs, he’s chasing something bigger.