Temperament & toughness: How Rohit became a thoroughbred openerhttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-rohit-sharma-has-been-a-hit-as-a-test-opener-6078955/

Temperament & toughness: How Rohit became a thoroughbred opener

With a tightened defence and improved temperament — the latter more crucial — Rohit has become tough to dislodge once he has negotiated the initial phase at the crease.

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India’s Rohit Sharma raises his bat to acknowledge the applause from the spectators after scoring double century during the second day of third and last cricket test match between India and South Africa in Ranchi, India, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP)

Four innings, three hundreds and 529 runs, not since Virender Sehwag has an opener made so head-turning an impact as Rohit Sharma in a single series. So much so that he makes one wonder why it took so long for the strategists to stumble on this idea. Be what it may, Rohit is hurriedly covering the lost years in Test cricket, and remarkably, he has seamlessly blended his ODI game into the longest version. The fundamentals behind his Test transformation:

Risk-free gains

Irrespective of the format, Rohit has eschewed risk from his game, selectively eliminating shots that tended to bring his downfall. Like the flick. Once his staple, as with most subcontinental batsman, he barely flicks now, unless it’s middle-and-legish. Even if it’s so, he looks to either glance it fine or drive it straight, thus reducing the risk of having to bring the bat around his front pad, making his play across. As glaringly, he no longer reaches out for drives, rather punches, slaps or leaves, depending on the length.

This series, he has adeptly left deliveries, a streak of abstinence reminiscent of Murali Vijay in his prime. It was his supposed vulnerability — the tendency to poke or stab or hang his bat, away from the body — which Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander preyed on. It had been a successful ploy in his more restless days, but Test opener Rohit is foolproof to such fleeting intemperance.

Wary start, steady middle game

A batsman who likes to impose himself, Rohit is exceedingly watchful at the start. There is hardly a stroke of imprudence or a betrayal of haste, crease-occupation being his sole prerogative. That he still manages to score runs at a brisker tempo than most others is a testament to his batting pedigree.

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Such is his range that even if he’s not fully aggressive, he still kicks along at a decent strike rate, which means the bowlers have no scope to err. And once he gets a start, negotiates that early uncertain phase, Rohit becomes unstoppable, shifting gears and riding along at the same pace. His 529 runs in the series have come at a stunning strike rate of 77.45, which in turn affords Virat Kohli the luxury to press for victories, as it was in the Vizag Test, where the pace at which he scored his second-innings century gave the skipper sufficient cushion to set a lofty target and at the same time, give the bowlers enough overs to dismiss South Africa.

Start-stop, not any longer

In 47 innings before this series, Rohit had just three hundreds. In four innings alone in the series, he has piled three, snapping his dubious habit of frittering away starts. Part of it has to with the promotion. Batting at number five or lower, Rohit struggled to juggle with the multiple roles the spot entailed, whereas opening the innings gave him more clarity regarding his role. He didn’t have to worry about batting with the lower order, farming the strike, pacing his innings and such intricacies. He’s now a liberated man, can bat freely, and once the clarity was in place, he could construct his innings in a more conventional way.

Ruthless to spinners

Keshav Maharaj and Dane Piedt might be inferior to Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, who shared 19 wickets apiece on their 2017 tour t, but Rohit ensured that they didn’t pick any confidence whatsoever. He literally snubbed them, treating them like Sunday afternoon club-like spinners. Apart from the two instances Maharaj dismissed him — both after he had completed his hundred — he has been remorseless in denting their morale. He’s a spinner’s nightmare. A bit of flight, he’s there dancing down the track and smoking them over the ropes. Any width, he’s in position to cut, length, he’ll slog-sweep, full, he’ll sweep, in a variety of versions from the paddle to the reverse .