When India won the fourth Test against England at the Oval, there were diverse opinions on who should be the Player of the Match. Jasprit Bumrah, who lit the fuse for the England slide on the last day, was a leading contender. But then it was Shardul Thakur’s counterattack that saved India from posting a paltry score in the first innings and he followed up with another fifty in the second innings that put the match beyond England’s grasp.
All these would have been useless had India crumbled in the second essay as well. Rohit Sharma ensured that it didn’t happen with his maiden overseas Test century. If it was not for that stroke-filled innings, India would have been staring down the barrel. So he deserved the Player of the Match award.
His eighth Test century and the first abroad received effusive praise from cricket pundits. “That’s exactly how a Test match innings has to be built,” former Indian captain and one of the finest opening batsmen in the world, Sunil Gavaskar, told Sony Sports Network.
Like Mohammed Azharuddin and G.R. Vishwanath, India’s stroke players from another era, Gavaskar said that Sharma too had multiple options for each delivery. “They could play on the on-side and the off-side, but then to curb that and play what is needed for the occasion is very important, and that’s what he’s done,” he added.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan was equally impressed with Sharma’s technique. “You are bowling around 85 miles an hour, and Rohit [Sharma] plays like a forward defence as if you bowled like 3 miles an hour. And he also plays strokes, whips it through the on-side, and it’s kind of that look — ‘that was rubbish,’ Vaughan said in BBC’s Test Match Special podcast.
To regular cricket watchers, Sharma’s classy knock didn’t come as a surprise. Time and again, he has torn apart mighty attacks in Twenty20 games and One-Day Internationals. When he failed to replicate his form in Tests, he was dubbed a White-ball Wonder.
I was sure that he would succeed in Tests too. Such was the ease with which he unfurled his silken strokes that it was easy to see that Sharma is a class apart. In fact, I see shades of Barry Richards in him: the square-cut and pull off the front is so similar to the footages I have seen of the South African great.
The bigger worry was whether he will wither away like a Lawrence Rowe, Carl Hooper or a Martin Guptill: batsmen whose performances never justified their immense talent. But the manner in which Sharma lorded over white-ball cricket indicated that success in Test cricket was not too far. If Sharma can score three ODI double centuries and plenty of runs in Australia and England (he struck four tons in a row in the 2019 World Cup), he should be a good fit for Test cricket.
Much of his success in white-ball games came in the role of an opener, a slot he owned after the Indian middle-order became crowded. When translated that form in Tests, carping critics said all his seven centuries were minted in India. But Sharma’s rich vein of form in Australia suggested that a ton is round the corner.
Even in this tour of England, he seemed to be in good touch although there were only two fifties in six innings. But in each of the substantial knocks Sharma displayed his superb technique against the Sultan of Swing Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson. Gavaskar sure was impressed. “Very, very impressive, for the simple reason that the way he was covering the swing when the ball was new…The way he was playing very late, the way he had the bat and pad close to each other, not pushing at deliveries,” the owner of 34 Test centuries said on Sony Sports Network.
That’s not all. Sharma makes batting look easy, irrespective of the situation. It’s a hallmark of a fine player, and that rubs off on other players as well. But that can be intimidating to bowlers. This is what Vaughan said in the BBC podcast. “I like watching players that make the pressure situation seem not like any pressure at all. Rohit Sharma is that player.”
That’s something we knew ever since he made his international debut at the inaugural T20 World in Cup in 2007. Hit-Man, he’s called for his prolific scoring in white-ball cricket. Well, the Hit-Man has arrived in red-ball cricket too.