Rohit Sharma blasted his fourth ton but his first as an opener in his comeback to the Indian cricket team. (Image credit: PTI)
When Rohit Sharma stroked debutant Senuram Muthusamy to deep cover on the first day of the Vizag Test against South Africa, he had notched up his fourth century. The celebrations were not too ecstatic. A look up to the sky, a raise of the bat and a big hug from Mayank Agarwal. This century was mighty important. It was important in a lot of ways for Rohit. The Vizag century has provided a soothing balm to nine years of his Test pain, which incidentally began against the same opponents in his home town of Nagpur in 2010. Rohit, who was talked up as the next big thing after his exploits in the 2007 World T20 and 2008 CB tri-series triumphs in South Africa and Australia, was included in the Test side.
As fate would have it, a knee injury sustained just before the toss resulted in his omission and Wriddhiman Saha's inclusion. The knee injury suffered in Jamtha would put his Test career back by three years and his next opportunity came when Sachin Tendulkar had announced his retirement after 24 glorious years. Rohit responded with two back-to-back centuries but once he left Indian shores, Rohit's technical frailities were exposed.
However, the Mumbai right-hander was travessing a parallel path in his career. His Test failures aside, in ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals though, he became a bonafide great. The turning point was 2013 and the ICC Champions Trophy when Rohit was promoted to open the batting on a regular basis in ODIs. The change from middle order to top gave Rohit Sharma a new direction in his cricketing career. Since being promoted to open, Rohit is the leading run-getter in Twenty20 Internationals and the leading six-hitter in ODIs and T20Is. He is in the top run-getters chart. It was opening that changed Rohit's fortunes in ODIs.
In Tests, it was a different tail. Heading into Vizag, a lot of demons were running around in Rohit's head. His two-ball duck in Vizianagaram had not helped. There was a lot of split advice, with some suggesting that Rohit might have to curb his natural game while others said Rohit must play his natural game. On game day, Rohit strode out with Mayank Agarwal. Many people expected Rohit to be like Virender Sehwag while others believed he might not last beyond Kagiso Rabada or Vernon Philander.
There was some aspects in which he followed Sehwag's mantra which was 'See ball, hit ball'. His four off Rabada to get off the mark symbolised the mantra perfectly. At the other end, he was beaten a couple of times by Philander's swing. More importantly, he hung in and did not get flustered and play a loose shot. In the context of Rohit's career, having survived the first hour that too at the top was a massive psychological boost.
In the first session, Rohit left the balls with discipline outside off and played himself in. In the second session, the ODI and T20I spirit took over. When he saw a bad delivery, he simply punished them. Rohit showcased his Sehwag-like fearlessness by nearing his century with two consecutive sixes off Dane Piedt. When he reached his century and got off the field before the tea break, the standing ovation and the grin Virat Kohli had on his face highlighted the importance.
Vizag is known as the 'City of Destiny'. MS Dhoni became a household name because of his 148 against Pakistan in Vizag. In 2019, Rohit has shaped his Test destiny. In 2013, his limited overs career changed after opening. Rohit would be hoping that the same is true for his Test fortunes after Vizag.