Kolkata: The Rohit Sharma 2.0 in the ongoing tour of England had been a revelation for Indian cricket fans, but one person - who would be smug while in quarantine in his hotel room in London - would be their head coach Ravi Shastri.
Trolled like no other incumbent of that hot seat, it was nevertheless Shastri’s idea to use the gifted Mumbai batsman as a Test opener - much like the erstwhile captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s masterstroke of bringing Rohit up the order in white ball cricket in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy. Dhoni’s decision to pair him with Shikhar Dhawan saw the ‘Hitman’ flower into a white ball giant over the next eight years - which included five centuries in the 2019 ICC World Cup and three double centuries in the 50-overs format.
Isolating at his hotel room after testing positive for Covid-19 since the final few days of the fourth Test at Oval, Shastri can take heart from his almost prophetic thoughts on Rohit in his just launched book: Star gazing: The Players in my life. The book, which has the cricketer-turned-TV pundit-turned-coach speaking about more than 60 top notch performers of the game whom he has seen in various capacities in his life, features four players from the current crop under him: Rohit, Virat Kohli and spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
What made him contemplate using Rohit in the unlikely role of a Test opener? Here is Shastri in his own words: ‘‘After losing his place in the (Test) team, he was finding it difficult to make a comeback, which was obviously playing in his mind. He is a phlegmatic, almost laidback person, but he seemed to be getting restless and frustrated at not making the cut consistently for the five-day format. When I became coach, I sensed the waiting game for opportunities wasn’t for him. Moreover, we were losing out on a superb player.
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‘‘The gauntlet had to be thrown at him. Even in Tests, he could be used as opener, though he had no experience of this in first class cricket. After discussing this for a while with him, our minds met, and Rohit came through with a superb series as opener against the West Indies in 2019, scoring more than 500 runs,’’ Shastri wrote in the book co-authored by senior editor and longtime buddy Ayaz Memon.
What does the future hold for Rohit the Test opener ? Shastri, who is on the cusp of ending an eventful run at the helm of the team after the T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE, feels that there could be another glorious chapter in the career of this entertainer. ‘‘If he works hard on his fitness, conquers the injuries which crop up every now and then, comes to terms with his own body, puts in the hard yards and settles into a rhythm that allows him to play cricket continuously, Rohit can notch up a Test record which, with his massive achievements in white-ball cricket, would put him in the pantheon of greats.
‘‘He’s tasted blood as a Test opener, so watch out for the Hitman,’’ these were Shastri’s concluding words in the chapter on Rohit Sharma when he was wrapping up the book months back during the lockdown period.
Call it prophetic if you will - but he had been spot-on in his observation.