India v West Indies, 1st Test, Kolkata, 2nd day November 7, 2013

Rohit passes the Test with honours

The more desperate Rohit Sharma got for a Test cap, the further it slipped from his grasp. But when he did get his chance, Rohit showed no anxiety, working hard for his runs and playing astutely against the West Indies bowlers

Rohit Sharma got his first taste of Test cricket's quirks two days before his debut. He didn't even know back then that he would be debuting at Eden Gardens - he merely wanted to look at the pitch on which he could be batting in two days' time. It's something you don't do in ODIs or T20s; only in Tests do you start thinking about the pitch so much in advance. Eden's eccentric chief groundsman, Prabir Mukherjee, intercepted Rohit, told him off and, when Rohit protested, pointed to an old sign - dangling at 90 degrees - that said only captains and coaches were allowed to inspect the pitch.

You can see how Test cricket's traditions and rituals, and the recently heightened stature because of the threat from shorter formats, can make it feel like a monster to some of the youngsters. While succeeding in Test cricket is no longer necessary to make a lavish living out of the game, it has in a way become even more important for youngsters to succeed in Tests, as if to prove their love for cricket.

Especially for someone like Rohit. He holds the record for the most ODIs before Test debut. And, in Rohit's case, the more desperate he got, the further the Test cap receded from his grasp. He was injured minutes before what was to be his Test debut against South Africa in February 2010, then travelled the world with the squad before eventually losing his place because of his ODI form. He was unfairly ridiculed and dropped based on his ODI form, although he averaged much higher in first-class cricket than he did in the domestic limited-overs formats. Ironically, he had put in his third Man-of-the-Series performance in ODIs to get this chance.

So here he was, two days after hitting seven sixes in 18 balls in his ODI double-century, being put in his place by a veteran groundsman. He would redefine his place soon.

The debut came about just in time for him to come face to face with what has been the reality of Test cricket in India. He walked out to the deafening collective silence of over 30,000 spectators because Tendulkar had just been dismissed. The opposition was at its most charged up, another wicket soon fell, and India were 151 behind with five wickets down and due to bat last.

The pressure had mounted, there was no release shot available, and Shane Shillingford, who had taken four wickets, was pretty accurate. Fine leg, deep midwicket, deepish mid-on, short midwicket and two short legs complemented the turn Shillingford was getting into the pads. He left third man and point open, asking Rohit to take the risk of cutting bouncing offbreaks if he so wished.

Even getting desperate for a single would have involved some risk. For the first 12 balls he faced, he didn't get a delivery that would give him a free single. The previous 12 balls he had faced, at that ODI in Bangalore, had yielded four sixes and 35 runs. He might even have felt that Test cricket was really a monster. Ever since he found success at the top of the ODI order, he has been insisting that it was just the start. He was in the right frame of mind to play cricket, any cricket.

There was no anxiety over scoring, no itching to find release; and he waited for the loose ball, which, when it arrived on the hip, he glanced it to fine-leg for four. It was not an easy pitch, he said, and it was imperative that Shillingford be played off. Rohit's partners - MS Dhoni and R Ashwin - were great help. Unlike the West Indies batsmen on day one, they kept working the singles, not letting the bowler build pressure on just the one batsman. As time passed, the bowlers tired, the field eased, the deficit decreased. All gradually, and at its own pace.

Rohit said he knew Test runs won't come easy. "Runs don't come so easily in Tests," he said after the day's play. "You must have seen, I only played 150 balls to get a 200 in that ODI, but here I've played 220-something balls to get 127. So this shows Test cricket is not easy, you've got to work your way around and score your runs."

He was prepared to work hard. If along the way a ball presented itself to be hit, he would play some of his special shots, like the flick past midwicket off Darren Sammy, which flew away in no time to the boundary. The first time he lofted the ball he had already reached 72, India were already in the lead, and the ball was 80 overs old and not bouncing alarmingly. The joy on his face when he reached the fifty, followed by an elaborate acknowledgement to every gallery of the ground, told you how much it meant to him when the Test chance finally arrived. Something also seemed to be saying, "This is just the start."

Rohit might have brought up the hundred through an edge, but it brought massive relief. You could see he almost wanted to remove the gloves and sit down in the middle and just savour the moment. And nobody can stop him from looking at that pitch now, because he is still batting on it. Maybe Test cricket is not such a monster after all.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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