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It was 'hard to see a player like Rohit sitting outside' in the West Indies - Ajinkya Rahane

Ajinkya Rahane speaks at an event IndianOil

Ajinkya Rahane, India's Test vice-captain, has said that he found it "hard" to see a batsman like Rohit Sharma sitting out of the two Tests in the West Indies last month.

Rohit has been touted as an opening option for the upcoming Test matches at home against South Africa, and Rahane, who returned to form with a century and two half-centuries in the Caribbean, was happy about it.

"I don't know yet if Rohit will open the innings. If he does then I'm really happy for him," Rahane said at an event in Mumbai. "In West Indies also it's actually hard to see a player like Rohit sitting outside. He works so hard, he's been with the Test team for long now, so if he gets an opportunity I'll be really happy for him and I'm sure he will do well.

"We all know the quality and talent he has and Test cricket is all about mindset. ODI cricket we all know you can just go out there and back yourself, in Test cricket sometimes if two bowlers are bowling good spells you've got to respect that spell and come out strongly and play your game after that."

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Even though Rahane wasn't sure if Rohit would open or not, chief selector MSK Prasad had clarified while picking the squad for the South Africa Tests that India were going to give Rohit the chance to open, as KL Rahul, who opened in the West Indies, had been dropped from the side.

Interestingly, less than two years ago, Mumbai mates Rohit and Rahane were vying for the same middle-order spot in Tests, during the tour of South Africa in January 2018. At that time, Rohit played in the first two Tests - which India lost - ahead of Rahane before being dropped for the Johannesburg game in which Rahane scored 48 crucial runs on a tough pitch in the second innings to help India end the series on a winning note.

Since then, Rohit has played two Tests, both in Australia, scoring 106 runs including an unbeaten 63 in the first innings in Melbourne. On that tour, both Rahane and Rohit played in the middle order. But with the recent rise of Hanuma Vihari at No. 6 - and the lack of a stable opening combination with the ouster of Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay and Rahul - combined with the temporary suspension of Prithvi Shaw, a door has opened for Rohit as an opener.

India head coach Ravi Shastri, meanwhile, has said the idea of getting Rohit to open isn't a new one.

"[...] I told Rohit, way back in 2015-16, to start opening for Mumbai [in the Ranji Trophy]," Shastri told Hindustan Times. "Always felt he had the X-factor. But it is always difficult, not easy for a No. 5 or 6 to do it.

"But it is just a mind thing. If he gets over it, he is going to be a match-winner there as well, and we are going to give him time. We are not going to push him."

Shastri began his Test career as a left-arm spinner who batted in the lower order, but ended it as an opening batsman. He finished with a fine record at the top of the order, averaging 44.04 with four hundreds including two in England and one in Australia. That experience, Shastri said, prompted him to advise Rohit to make a similar move up the order.

"That is the main reason why I told him in 2015 because I was speaking from my experience," he said. "There are a lot of players who should have opened for India, just to eliminate a batsman [to enable the team to play an extra bowler], but very few had the balls. Sometimes in the subcontinent you just need five batsmen. That was my opportunity, that's how I got to open the innings."

In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, former India batting coach Sanjay Bangar had said opening would give Rohit more opportunities to score quickly.

"Opening will be a new challenge for him, since he has rarely done it in the longer formats," Bangar said. "But the advantage is that he will get to bat against a hard ball with plenty of gaps in the field. He will also not have to wait for his turn to bat, which will save his mental energy.

"If he succeeds, his style of play will be extremely helpful to the team. It might result in being able to successfully chase down targets that we haven't achieved in the past, like in Cape Town and Edgbaston."