Sharma returns to Test matches with a bang

India’s Rohit Sharma was back in action carving out five magnificent centuries against New Zealand.  Reuters

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Rohit Sharma is back with a bang. This brilliant batsman has been a run-scoring machine over the past several years but for some reason has never been considered to open the innings in a Test for India. In the shorter formats of the game — the T20 and the one-day internationals — he has been indispensable and he made an indelible mark in the World Cup in England earlier this year. The right-hander carved out five magnificent centuries until New Zealand derailed this runaway Indian campaign in the semifinals.

Prior to his exploits in the World Cup fans from around the cricket world wondered aloud as to why this outstanding batsman was being given the cold shoulder when it came to Test cricket. Of course, the rumour mills had a field day mentioning that there existed a deep rift between Sharma and captain Virat Kohli. India manager Ravi Shastri strongly denied that such a problem existed between the two who were once close friends but then again you wouldn’t expect Shastri not to toe the party line if he wants to hold on to his job. The simmering feud between the two apparently hit the roof following India’s World Cup exit when the Indian board entertained discussions about splitting the captaincy with Kohli taking charge of the Test team and Sharma, who has enjoyed unprecedented success as captain in the Indian Premier League, given the nod for the other formats. But those discussions were stopped in their tracks. Kohli had planned to skip the West Indies trip following the World Cup but hastily changed his mind and made himself available for the entire tour. That ensured that there would be no change on who would lead India in the Caribbean.

So when the squad returned home from its visit to the islands the selectors decided it was time to bolster the top of the batting order for the upcoming series against South Africa following the recent failures of those who were given a chance. Lokesh Rahul, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and 19-year-old Prithvi Shaw failed to impress. With the budding Shaw sidelined because of a doping violation, India was forced to parachute in Sharma as a partner for the established 28-year-old Mayank Agarwal. The 32-year-old Sharma grabbed this opportunity with both hands and appears to have filled a huge hole that existed. Playing against one of the world’s most potent fast bowling attacks Sharma blasted his way to centuries against the Proteas in the first Test to lead India to a lopsided 203-run victory at Visakhapatnam. It must be pointed out that Sharma is now new to the red ball scene. He had previously played in 27 Tests but none as an opening batsman where the flamboyant Mumbai-born player has flourished in the other formats. Even though he rattled up 1,585 Test runs at a decent average of 39.62 he was never moved up to the position that he has excelled — at the top of the order. Sharma became the first batsman to score two hundreds in his maiden Test as an opener and for good measure also broke the record for most sixes. He decimated the Proteas attack to post 176 in the first innings and shared a 317-run opening stand with Agarwal who blasted 215 in the home team’s first innings total of 502 for seven declared. Sharma returned to the crease full of confidence for the second innings and hit 127. After smacking six sixes in his first innings he followed that up with seven in the second to surpass the record 12 hoisted by Pakistan’s Wasim Akram against Zimbabwe in 1996. South Africa also had two centurions with opening batsman Dean Elgar making 160 and wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock hammering 111 in the visitors’ total of 431. India declared it second innings at 323 for four and then bundled out the visitors for a meagre 191. Apart from Sharma and Agarwal’s assault on the Proteas it was the bowling unit that also starred. Ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin celebrated his return to Test cricket with a haul of seven wickets for 145 runs in the first and in the second it was fast bowler Mohammed Shami who ran through the South Africans with a magnificent spell of five wickets for 35 runs. “It’s a great start and I have a long way to go,’’ said man-of-the-match Sharma. “It’s not the end, it’s the start. Good things are about to follow.”


International cricket returned to Pakistan after a 10-year absence but the home team has left reeling after being clobbered by a second-string Sri Lanka squad to win its first T20 series in Pakistan. Bhanuka Rajapaksa, playing only his second T20I, smashed a 48-ball 77 replete with six sixes and four fours to help Sri Lanka post a huge 182 for six. Wanindu Hasaranga and Nuwan Pradeep then ran through the Pakistan line up with Hasaranga taking three for 38 and Pradeep four for 25 to restrict the home team to 147.


Chris Silverwood has taken over from Australian Trevor Bayliss as England’s national coach. The 44-year-old who played six Tests and seven ODIs for England was previously the bowling coach of the national team. Silverwood’s first assignment will be the tour of New Zealand that starts in November.