India vs Aus Test: How a steely Rohit took the game away from Cummins and co

In 19 Tests since he celebrated his elevation as an opener with twin hundreds in the first cycle of the World Test Championship in October 2019, Rohit has amassed 1,672 runs at a handsome average of 57.65

Rohit Sharma
Indian captain Rohit Sharma celebrates his century against Australia during the second day of the first Test in Nagpur on Friday (February 10). Rohit hit his 9th ton in Tests and first as skipper in the five-day format. Photo: BCCI

It’s hard to imagine that Rohit Sharma has played just three Test matches since he was appointed cross-format captain in February last year. It’s harder still to imagine that Rohit Sharma could so easily have been lost to Test cricket had it not been for the faith, enterprise and willingness for a punt of his predecessor and the then head coach.

In an almost desperate, last throw of the dice, Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri did to Rohit the Test batsman what Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher had done to Rohit the white-ball batsman in January 2013 — thrust him into the role of an opener. At the start of the first cycle of the World Test Championship in October 2019, Rohit opened a Test innings for the first time, against South Africa in Visakhapatnam. Since then, he has been an unstoppable force, an excellent run-maker at home and an accomplished innings-builder overseas.

Elevation as an opener

In 19 Tests since he celebrated his elevation as an opener with twin hundreds in the said Visakhapatnam game, Rohit has amassed 1,672 runs at a handsome average of 57.65. Six of his nine career hundreds have come at the top of the order, where he provides dash, verve, stability and solidity — an unmatchable combination that India had been searching for since the M Vijay-Shikhar Dhawan tandem came unstuck.


Also read: India vs Australia | Kohli’s wicket a ‘dream come true’ moment: Murphy

In a further reminder — if it was needed, that is — of how much he has taken to the Test arena in his no-longer-new avatar, Rohit drove India’s charge towards ascendancy in the first of four matches against the No. 1 Test side in the world. Any Australia-India battle is characterised by high stakes, with so much riding on the outcome, not least the destination of the prestigious Border-Gavaskar Trophy. This time around, its significance is magnified by the fact that places in the final of the WTC are up for grabs; therefore, there is additional context.

Building on the foundation of Jadeja and Axar

It’s under these circumstances that champions pride themselves on their ability to rise to the occasion. Rohit did that and more, without discounting the stirring contributions of Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, the two left-arm spinners who easily fall in the all-rounder category, if India find themselves in a position of great dominance in the first Test in Nagpur, much of the credit should go to their inspirational skipper.

So much attention was centred before the start of the game on the ability of the Indian batsmen to tackle the turning ball with conviction and authority. It was imperative — the general consensus went — that the established top four of Rohit, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli bed in and do the hard yards. As it transpired, while the other three didn’t address the need of the hour, Rohit more than compensated for their failures, holding the first half of the innings together with tremendous poise and laying the foundation on which Jadeja and Axar built so beautifully late in the day, against a tired and flagging Aussies attack.

Going about business with little fuss or fanfare

Rohit will be the first to admit that his task was made slightly, only slightly, easier by how long R. Ashwin batted on the second morning, which India began 100 runs in arrears of Australia’s 177. An early strike would have invigorated Pat Cummins’ men and pushed India on to the back foot, but Ashwin comfortably held his own against Cummins and the wily Nathan Lyon, who was below his best and out-bowled by his off-spinning compatriot, debutant Todd Murphy.

Listen to our podcast: India vs Australia: ‘Relaxed Rohit delivered a masterclass’

Ashwin’s reassuring presence meant Rohit could go about his business with little fuss or fanfare. There were pleasing drives as he got decisively to the pitch of the ball, smothering whatever turn the bowlers might otherwise have procured. There were characteristically effective pulls when Cummins tested out the bounce in the surface, and when the boundaries didn’t flow, Rohit worked the gaps with the precision of a surgeon, thus ruling out Australia imposing the pressure of a static scoreboard.

The soft dismissals of Pujara and Kohli, both falling to innocuous deliveries down leg from Murphy, forced Rohit to revisit his approach and focus on occupying the crease. This too he managed with little trouble. Normally free-scoring and positive, Rohit played well within himself, solid in defence, assured in his understanding of where his off-stump was and ensuring that when he was drawn into the odd false stroke, he immediately put it behind him and focused on the next delivery. There was no sense of frustration or lack of patience as he put survival ahead of frenzied run-making, and the studied absence of over-the-top celebration on reaching his first three-figure knock in Tests against Australia was the perfect indicator that he believed the job was anything but done.

Embracing the sheet-anchor mein

Rohit acknowledged the applause from every corner of the sparsely populated VCA Stadium, including his admiring and respectful mates in the dressing-room, but didn’t even bother to take off his helmet. Steely focus was unmistakably obvious even after the mega-milestone was brought up because, when he got to hundred, India were only 19 runs in front with half their batting back in the pavilion.

The dexterity with which Jadeja manoeuvred the gaps and found the fence meant Rohit could continue to embrace his sheet-anchor mien and keep grinding Australia out of the game. The second new ball, taken immediately after it was due in the first over after tea, was finally to prove his undoing, though it needed a special effort from Cummins to end a special innings.

Rohit was suckered into a loose drive that Steve Smith spilled at the second slip. Cummins’ riposte was immediate, and spectacular — a fullish delivery that slanted in the air, straightened on pitching to square up the well-entrenched Rohit and knock out off peg. It brought to an end an innings of the highest order, spanning 345 minutes and 212 deliveries, an innings that stood like a rock between Australia and their designs of running through India.

It was also an innings that sparked Jadeja and Axar into an association that has all but taken Australia out of the game. When you factor that in too, Rohit’s epic has to be worth far more than its impressive numerical value of 120.