1st Test, Eden Gardens, Nov 6-10
Indians are emotional beings. It is always a little bit harder for us to let go off the past, watch heroes fade, watch ourselves fade and watch things change in general. We immediately embrace a constant, and then put our hope and prayers into that constant- spending most of our adult lives being charmed by it. Then comes the time to say goodbye to this constant, who by now, has become an idol for millions. And we are pathetic at goodbyes, especially long-winding inevitable 2-test goodbyes. Kolkata’s love letter (with roses, statues, songs etc.) to Sachin can be considered par for the course in terms of celebratory farewells.
The entire India-WI series is a Sachin Farewell campaign. It is an extended celebration of an extended career that had become more personal to Indians than their own families. The richest cricket board in the world, the BCCI, clearly seems to know that this batsman is behind the rise of their own fortunes. He brought them in, they rolled them and garnished them. Together, they ruled the world.
Deep within the realms of history though, this series will only be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar’s departure. It, therefore, was always to be a thankless affair for an undercooked West Indian test team. To see Shami and Rohit debut at Eden Gardens, during ‘THE’ penultimate test of his career, was heartening and opportunistic. It was a perfect time to slip these players under the radar, under the hype of a historic series, and let them see where they stand at test level.
At the end of day 2, Shami and Rohit have been the heroes of the test match already. As expected, Sachin didn’t create a bang- but neither did Kohli, Dhawan or Pujara. With the help of Ashwin, Shami and Rohit have both ridden their ODI form into this ‘meaningless’ test and create a firm foothold for themselves in this test team. Contrary to beliefs, both of these players were MUCH needed in the context of the Indian test team. India desperately lacked a wicket taking frontline fast bowler- with the dip of Ishant and Yadav hitting home harder in ODIs. If there was one batting spot that was responsible for the 0-8 as well as the 1-2 home test series loss to England, it was the no. 6 spot- earlier frequented by Ganguly before he retired. Raina has come and gone, Yuvraj never made it his own, even Rahane failed in the last series in his only match. Jadeja is more of a bowler than a batsman, and Dhoni doesn’t prefer to bat at 6 in tests. They had to go in with 6 specialist batsmen in this series, before the SA tour.
And they did.
Rohit, after 108 ODIs, made his test debut after Shami wrecked havoc in the first innings with a fiery spell of 4 wickets. No other player had played so many ODIs before being handed his test debut. And to think, Rohit started as a test player for Mumbai.
He came in at 82-4, which soon became 82-5. Dhoni joined him. Rohit, who is already been transformed in the eyes of many from ‘nohit’ to ‘hitman’ after his ODI double, never looked back.
He became the first Indian after Dhawan at Mohali to score a test century on debut. The circumstances only made his century more valuable. Raina had scored a century on debut in Sri Lanka in 2011, but never capitalized. Rohit played like he was born for the Indian middle order. His calm and solidity was in great contrast to his 2012 ODI form, to the Rohit that was supposed to make his test debut back in 2008. He must have surely taken it easy in practice on the first morning to avoid any freak injuries before being handed the cap by Sachin Tendulkar.
Rohit made it count, playing India out of a precarious position. The Eden Gardens pitch is a far cry from the recently concluded bowler-suicide ODI series against Australia. It provides turn and bounce to spinners, as Shillingford to aptly demonstrated, and a bit of help to new-ball seamers. That Sammy hasn’t been able to captain his side into a dominant position is a shame after having them on the ropes at 83-5. It is also a tribute to Rohit’s newfound grit, his ability to build an innings and then break free at will. There is nobody as destructive as Rohit in the slog overs.
Rohit has been known for his talent for a long time. He hasn’t done justice to it since his ODI and T20 debut in 2007. But he was never a limited overs player. Pujara has a much better average than he does in limited overs first class cricket (56 to 36).
That he scored 209 against Australia in a format he wasn’t meant to play, is a testament to his hunger to adapt and prove his detractors wrong. The best part about his 177 on test debut was his reaction when he was given LBW. He knew the decision was controversial, and he wanted more. He saw a missed opportunity- he could have been the first Indian to score a double century on test debut.
In the space of 35 days, Rohit has captained his IPL side to a Champions League title, scored a double century and century in an ODI series, broken the record for a bilateral series aggregate and scored a test century on debut- in all probability, a winning 177.
This could be just the beginning.
The floodgates have opened.