At the time Rohit had not even made his Test debut though he was making a name for himself in the shorter versions of the game. But based on his approach to batting it was clear that his game was tailor-made for Test cricket. To start with he was from the Bombay school of batting which is all about big scores and an insatiable appetite for runs. His technical excellence, his text book driving and cutting, his chiselled strokeplay with the ideal temperament for the longer version of the game, allied to his natural qualities of dedication, determination and concentration, marked him out as a long-term prospect. Before he even played in a Test, he had a first-class average of 60, an unbeaten triple century and the feat of a century in each innings of a Ranji Trophy final, something that only four players had achieved before, one of them being Sachin Tendulkar.
And yet even while he was making his reputation in limited overs cricket – enough to earn the sobriquet “Hitman” – he never made the Test team. Chappell was among those who were surprised that he had not played Test cricket. He rated him as high as Virat Kohli and wrote in 2011 that it was hard to fathom that more than three years after making an enormous impact in the CB series in Australia he had not played a Test and opined that he was in danger of being “under-utilized.”
Actually, it was six years after he played his first ODI that Rohit finally made his Test debut and he didn’t waste any time in making it really memorable. An electrifying 177 in his first Test innings followed by an unbeaten 111 in his next innings – incidentally this was Tendulkar’s last Test – made him the toast of the nation. Here it seemed was the natural successor to VVS Laxman for his strokes had the same silken touch. Inexplicably however, the runs then dried up and over the next 14 innings he got only one half-century and could not command a place in the side. Even when he was among the runs again, he seemed to get the big scores only at home leading many to call him “flat track bully”. In the meantime, his reputation in ODIs skyrocketed. He became the only batsman to hit three double hundreds in the format – out of a total of eight – and took credit for the highest score – 264 – in ODIs.
Rohit finally found his calling when pushed to opening the batting against South Africa in 2019. The impact was immediate – a century in each innings in the first Test at Visakapatnam followed by 212 in the third Test at Ranchi. His hunger for success thereafter knew no bounds and the runs and the centuries against his name continued to flow in regular vein. The aggregate and average kept leaping and soon he was regarded next only to Kohli in his value to the side. His 161 against England at Chennai earlier this year on a difficult track was a master class and underscored his elevation to the topmost rung of the Indian batting order. And now with his skilful displays in England – which included his first Test century outside India on his way to topping both the aggregates and averages – Rohit has taken giant strides to be regarded as vital to the top order. He is one who combines style with substance. Indeed, more than the runs it will continue to be his batting style that will garner special attention for Rohit is elegance personified as he plays those aesthetic strokes while doing his reputation as Hitman in limited overs cricket no harm. Rohit is not one to rest on his laurels and now that he has tasted success at the highest level one can only see his career graph going one way – upward.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)