One wonders what Sachin Tendulkar thought when the Indian team management decided to try out Rohit Sharma as an opener. In last year's Indian T20 league, Tendulkar watched from the non-striker's end at the Wankhede stadium as Dale Steyn took the mickey out of him with the new ball, making Sharma twist and turn with a series of away swingers.
Sharma may have let down his supporters in the past by failing to cash in on opportunities. However, in the last two months he has shown he is prepared to make the mental and technical adjustments needed to handle the new ball.
Thrust into the opener's role, he played a vital hand in helping the team win the Champions Trophy and the tri-series in the West Indies. He was the second highest run-getter for India in the ICC event with 177 runs at 35.40 and the top-scorer in the West Indies with 217 runs at 54.25.
Coach Dinesh Lad, who spotted his talent, can see the hand of current India coach Duncan Fletcher in Sharma's improved showing. "I find he's made some adjustment to his stance in terms of his back lift. As a result, his head position is better, which is helping him get into a better position to play the ball," Lad told HT.
Also, the most important part of an opener's game when dealing with the new ball in swinging conditions is leaving the ball, and that is what Sharma did well in Britain, added the coach. "I feel it's Fletcher's inputs."
Apart from making the necessary adjustments in his technique, it was also about absorbing the pressure after inconsistent showings. Sharma's career was at the crossroads as many felt he had been given a long rope by the team management and selectors. From being rated as a promising talent, he had slipped to a position where he was not assured of a place in the playing XI.
Only the failure of first-choice opener, Murali Vijay, got him a start in Champions Trophy. For Lad, it finally looks like Sharma has settled down. "The criticism against him was that after two good innings, he would relax. This time, he has maintained focus."
Another person who has worked closely with Sharma is current Mumbai coach, Sulakshan Kulkarni. "In the last two decades, there have been two middle-order batsmen being promoted to open and both proved to be masterstrokes - Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. Sharma has the two strokes which are important for an opener in limited overs cricket - the pull and cut. He still has lot to do, but has shown he is ready to make the mental adjustment to be an opener."
Still, for Sharma to make the opportunity count, the key will be to learn to convert his 50s and 60s into big scores.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.