At the VCA Stadium on February 6, 2010, Rohit Sharma injured his ankle during a practice session on the morning of what was to be his Test debut. Rohit himself had come into India’s squad as cover for the injured VVS Laxman. Now he too had been ruled out. He would have to wait until November 2013 to make his Test debut.
Now, more than seven years after that injury, Rohit has reason to view the VCA Stadium, and Nagpur, with a bit of fondness. On Sunday, he scored his third Test hundred here, which contributed to India going 1-0 up against Sri Lanka with victory by an innings and 239 runs. This was Rohit’s first Test match since October 2016.
“Personally for me, it [the hundred] was very important as I was playing Test cricket after nearly 500 days,” he said on Monday. “I have been waiting for this opportunity and I am glad that I could put some runs on the board for myself and the team. Really happy, it was worth waiting for so long.
“I clearly remember this was the ground where I got injured and I had to wait three years to make my Test debut. This ground has now given me something to [make me want to] go back.”
Rohit has made 68*, 2, 82, 51* and now 102* in his last five Test innings – that’s 305 runs at an average of 152.50. This run of scores has lifted his overall Test average above 40. But thanks to a spell of injury, the quality of India’s batting line-up, and their tendency to play five specialist bowlers, Rohit has not been a regular member of India’s Test line-up. He only played the Nagpur Test because India went in with six batsmen, and remains the likeliest batsman to miss out when India next decide to play an extra bowler or an allrounder.
In this situation, Rohit said it was important to keep himself at peak preparedness whenever opportunities arrived.
“When you get an opportunity you have to be more than ready, not just ready, to play the game and deliver the goods, what your captain and coach expect from you, and the team,” he said. “So when I was in Sri Lanka and before that, you never know that you’re going to be guaranteed your place in the XI. You’ve got to keep working at it, and try and figure out a way when you are in the middle, how you’re going to be destructive and make an impact on that particular game.
“So my focus was purely on those particular aspects and we’ve got a good set of coaches to help us go through all that. It really depends on the captain and the coach what combination they want and what they’re comfortable with. Every member of the side understands that, and they are 100% and completely backing them to make the right decision, and whatever decision they make is in favour of the team.
“In the last series that we played against Sri Lanka, we played with five bowlers. First game here we played with five, now we played with six [batsmen]. So you know, every now and then we’ll have this combination change – there will be six batsmen playing at times, there will be five bowlers playing at times – you never know. It depends completely on the captain, what he wants on that particular day, and against that particular opposition.”
Rohit admitted that, in the past, he had been prone to putting too much pressure on himself to perform in Test cricket, and said he was now far more relaxed.
“My plans are simple and clear,” he said. “I don’t want to complicate things, which I have [done] in the past at the earliest stage when I had just come into the team. I just thought too much about it and gave too much importance.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a cricket match that you have to play, don’t worry about anything else. Initially, my focus was a lot on Test cricket – ‘Oh no, this is Test cricket, I have to do well, I have to do this and that.’ In thinking that I lost a lot of focus and forgot what I was there for and what I needed to do and [now I am] pretty clear in my mind, which is the most important thing.”
Since his debut, Rohit has only played 22 of India’s 45 Tests, and spent a long time before that being part of the Test squad but not getting a game. He said it was pointless regretting any of that, and that he was happy to be playing, given the uncertainty that surrounded his career after he suffered that injury in Nagpur.
“There will always be regrets in your life,” he said. “Even if you score 10,000 runs, you will feel, ‘Oh, I should have scored 15,000 runs’. Or people will tell you, ‘You should have scored 15,000 runs, man’. So that’s what it is. That’s what this world is and that’s what we’re living in.
“But for me I’m glad that I’m back on my feet, because when I went through that injury, at one point I was thinking whether I’ll be able to walk or not, because injury was very bad. I’m lucky that I’m on my feet, playing and scoring some runs, so yes, I’m happy. I’m not someone who will think about what has happened in the past. I like to see what is in front of me, and yes, that is how I look at it. “When I was inexperienced, when I just came into the team there were lot of things that I used to think about, but not anymore. I’ve passed that age where I shouldn’t be thinking what happened in the past. I should be ready for what is coming next, because that’s what matters. What has happened in the past is gone – you can never change it. For me, I can change things looking forward, and looking forward is Delhi Test match and thereafter one-day series and then the South Africa series.”
In that tour of South Africa, and the series of overseas tours that will follow it, India will depend heavily on their fast bowlers. Rohit said they had “evolved immensely” since their last cycle of tours in 2013-15, and that they knew their own game inside-out.
“The last home season was a great eye opener for all the bowlers,” Rohit said. “Playing on slow pitches is never easy, I feel, and then to come out victorious and put on some match-winning performances was really pleasing to see. The last 13 matches we played in India, I think, there was a huge contribution from the bowling unit as well. That has given them confidence moving forward.
“Now, when we go and play abroad, the confidence is there. All these guys, they have worked closely, and they have started to work on their technique and think more on their strategies and all. Like I said, in Test cricket, you have to get wickets, people don’t give you wickets. You have to plan for that and I think the focus of these bowlers has been more on that particular aspect – how to get a batsman out and what works for them and what doesn’t.
“Sometimes there might be a session where you will find it tough but what do you do in that particular moment. It’s important to keep it tight, and keep that holding thing going on and create that pressure. So I think they have learned that in the last two years of Test-match cricket where they have played. When we went to South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England before, these guys were a little inexperienced and now they have come of age. They exactly know their bowling which is the most important thing for any cricketer, to know their game.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo