Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma after scoring one of his centuries during the home series against South Africa. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It’s not everyday that one sees a batsman, on the cusp of his first double or triple century in Tests, take on the bowler for a six to reach the landmark. Unless, of course, he is a Rohit Sharma or Virender Sehwag.

There are enough similarities in the manner in which these two master Indian strokeplayers reinvented themselves after being thrust into a opener’s role in the longer format of the game — though it’s a sheer coincidence that Sharma capped a dream run in his first Test series in the new role on the Nawab of Nazafgarh’s birthday on Sunday.

When Rohit finally departed for 212, off 255 balls with the help of 28 fours and six sixes, India looked well and truly on their way in to make it 3-0 in Ranchi in the home series against South Africa.

Rohit’s maiden double century in Tests overshadowed another extremely valuable three-figure knock by fellow Mumbaikar Ajinkiya Rahane, which saw him touching a slew of batting landmarks.

He became only the fourth batsman to hit a double hundred in both Tests and one-dayers — the three others being Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Chris Gayle. If that’s not enough, Sharma is now only the fifth Indian opener after Vinoo Mankad, Budhi Kunderan, Sunil Gavaskar and Sehwag to score 500 runs in a Test series.

“I (have) played only 30 Tests,” Rohit said after second day’s play. “In terms of what was thrown at me, I would definitely say it was probably the most challenging one.”

“Having played only three Tests as an opener, I know I have a long way to go. Of course I will take a lot of positives but I’m not reading too much into it,” he added.

There are, however, enough differences in the way Rohit and Sehwag were pitchforked into a Test opener’s spot at a gap of nearly two decades. While it was a calculated gamble on part of the then skipper Sourav Ganguly to try the dasher from Delhi at the top of the order as there was a traffic jam of big names in the Indian middle order in 2002, while Rohit was introduced into the role following Shikhar Dhawan falling out of reckoning and Lokesh Rahul failing to live up to the promise repeated chances.

However, unlike Sehwag who was still in the early half his career, Rohit is already 32 and has spent more than a decade in international cricket. The latter is already one of the modern greats of white ball cricket — with three double centuries and 86886 runs in the 50-overs game alone. If he had not quite struck the unreal form during the last ICC World Cup in England with five centuries, the clamour to see Rohit back in the whites may not have become a reality.

Crediting Rahane who made 115 and was involved in a crucial 267-run fourth-wicket stand with Rohit after the hosts lost three quick wickets on the first day, the man of the moment said: “We have seen him (Rahane) for a long time. The way he has taken forward his Test career. He has always rescued the team from difficult circumstances.”

“He has not done this in just one or two innings, but he’s been doing it consistently. It shows how strong mentally he is and the hunger for runs. We have seen this not only in India and outside.”

How does Rohit’s form change the dynamics of India’s Test team? “If somebody of his stature starts coming good at the top of the order, that changes everything for the team, even when you are touring. He is such an experienced player; I don’t think you need to tinker with his technique. He just had to make some mental adjustments vis-a-vis his game plan,” observed Indian team’s new batting coach Vikram Rathour.

India (1st innings)

(overnight 224-3)

R. Sharma c Ngidi b Rabada 212

A. Rahane c Klaasen b Linde 115

R. Jadeja c Klaasen b Linde 51

W. Saha b Linde 24

R. Ashwin st Klaasen b Piedt 14

U. Yadav c Klaasen b Linde 31

S. Nadeem not out 1

M. Shami not out 10

Extras (b10, lb6, nb1) 17

Total (9 wickets dec, 116.3 overs) 497

Fall of wickets: 4-306 (Rahane), 5-370 (Sharma), 6-417 (Saha), 7-450 (Jadeja), 8-464 (Ashwin), 9-482 (Yadav)

Bowling: Rabada 23-7-85-3 (nb1), Lungi 20-5-83-0, Nortje 24.3-5-79-1, Linde 31-2-133-4, Piedt 18-3-101-1

South Africa (first innings) 9/2