There are many who argue that opening in a Test match is very different from opening in an One-Day International.
The red cherry, the lively pitch, the packed slip cordon, the longer spells for the fast bowlers and the role the opener is expected to play, all mean that any player has to plan an innings differently in the longer format.
By contrast, the game plan in an ODI is much more straightforward. Challenges still remain but the batsman doesn’t have to keep resetting, the bowlers don’t have the chance to rest and get valuable inputs from the coaches either.
Day two report: Proteas lose quick wickets in reply to India’s 497/9
But the one thing that doesn’t change is the temperament of a player — in fact, in Test cricket, a person’s true nature comes to the fore much more easily. And even though the South African bowling attack isn’t the greatest, Rohit Sharma during his career-best 212 in Ranchi, showed a glimpse of why he is one of the most feared openers in the shorter formats.
Even in ODIs, Sharma never comes across as a man in a hurry. He takes his time at the start of the innings, allowing his partner Shikhar Dhawan to usually do most of the early hitting. But once he does get started, there are few in world cricket that can match him.
And now in Ranchi, we saw him bring a similar template to Test cricket as well. A slow, steady start and then impressive acceleration. In the first session on day one, along with Ajinkya Rahane, he helped India out of a tight spot. But for the rest of the opening day and on day two, which was cut short due to bad light once again, he hammered home the advantage as only he can.
And perhaps most importantly, Sharma is using the lessons he has learned in ODIs to the fullest in Test cricket too.
In the first session on day one, full-length deliveries were defended (as shown in the graphic above) but once he thought he had understood the pace of the wicket, he started playing shots off lengths that he had been content to defend against earlier. He took his time and made it count.
It seems simple enough but this is Sharma leveraging his ODI experience in the best way possible. He may be a rookie Test opener but he has been the best ODI opener in the world for a while now.
The other thing that Sharma did really well was how he picked the bowlers he wanted to attack. His strike-rate during his 212-run knock was lowest against Kagiso Rabada, who was by far the best South African player on view. He chose to give Rabada as much respect as possible because he reckoned that this bowler was dangerous.
Against everyone else, he played with far more freedom. He picked the bowlers he wanted to attack and he attacked them without mercy. Most experts reckoned that this would be a wicket that aided spin but Sharma chose to attack the visiting spinners with such class that Faf du Plessis was left second-guessing his decision to use them at all.
Dane Piedt was targetted once again, as was Lungi Ngidi. And really, he didn’t need to do more. If a batsman can force two bowlers out of the attack, the rest of the pack crumbles as well.
Innings by innings progression for Rohit Sharma in home Tests:
177, 111*, 2, 23, 1, 0, 35, 68*, 2, 82, 51*, 102*, 65, 50*, 176, 127, 14, 212.
But to his credit, Sharma also knows that he should not read too much into this purple patch. He understands how to bat in India. His Test average at home is 99.84. His ODI average in home games is 61.68.
“The new ball does something,” said Rohit Sharma in the press conference after day two. “In Pune and here (Ranchi), it was tough in the morning. Rabada’s spell was quite challenging. But conditions overseas will be different. Not reading too much right now, waiting for the overseas challenge as an opener.”
Given how hungry he is for success as an opener in Tests, his comments show that he will continue to hone his technique and his temperament. India’s next away tour will be against New Zealand and batting against the new ball is never easy there.
But for now, Sharma will trust himself to find a way through that too.