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2021 in Review

Wisden’s Test innings of the year 2021, No.9 – Rohit Sharma’s 161

Rohit Chennai
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read

Placed ninth in Wisden’s Test innings of the year list – part of the 2021 in Review series – is Rohit Sharma‘s 161 in Chennai.

Rohit Sharma 161 (231)

India v England
MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai
2nd Test
February 13-16, 2021

Seldom do India find themselves trailing in a Test series at home. In the last ten years, they have lost only four out of 46 Tests in India, with two of those losses dating back to 2012. The sheer weight of numbers serve as a reminder of India’s remarkable home reign.

And so, when Rohit Sharma walked out to bat alongside Shubman Gill on a pleasant Chennai morning against England for the second Test of the series, it would have felt like unfamiliar territory. India, probably still hungover from the highs of Australia, found themselves 1-0 down at home for only the second time in a decade. Nine balls into the second Test, Gill was trudging back, and the general feeling was that the horror would only extend.

Not for Rohit, who has made it a habit to prove people wrong. At 33, his own career stood at an intriguing juncture: months before the world halted due to the pandemic, Rohit was stacking up runs in home conditions at a frenetic pace. In 2019, he averaged a whopping 92.66. The call to play him at the top of the order turned into a master move. But post Covid-19, and the injury layoff that followed, his return to Test cricket had been unflattering, with flashy episodes of brilliance in Australia invariably followed by a sudden departure. With younger opening options popping up every season, and the ever-lasting chatter around his technique and temperament for Test cricket, the uneasiness was building once again.

Not in Chennai, though, for Rohit was in cruise control, happily existing in his own space. There was no fear of the red ball, the spitting turn becoming his ally, as he stayed put for five and a half hours, enjoying himself as he does so often in coloured clothing. There was no hurry, just a very clear head, immaculately sizing the turn on each delivery, pushing forward to smother it early or standing back to play it late. Just revelling in the moment.

Six balls into his innings, and with Gill already back, Rohit caressed a full delivery from Stuart Broad through covers. It was a picturesque response to England’s opening salvo. An animated Kohli, sitting in the dugout, yelled “Yes boy!” Three overs later, he patted one past the bowler for an even better-looking shot. On 30, he clubbed Ben Stokes for a six over midwicket. He’d entered the zone.

And that’s where the actual challenge began. These promising starts in Tests had come all too often, but hadn’t translated into those big, match-shaping centuries that he’d made a trademark out of in ODIs. And, on a dusty pitch with ample turn, England had picked both Moeen Ali and Jack Leach, two of their best wicket-taking options. Rohit, however, was incredibly unflustered, even after he witnessed Virat Kohli get trumped by a sharply-turning corker from Moeen.

Anything short enough was either wristily guided between point and third man, or deftly nudged to the leg side. Anything full was met with the full force of his sweep shot, crispy and emphatic, finding space between two fielders in the outfield. But he wasn’t sticking to just one ploy: there was also the characteristic dance down the track, bludgeoning the ball over long-off and the impudent paddle-sweep, annoying enough to make even the best of bowlers go astray.

As he went deeper into his innings, the sweep turned more potent and precise. It was all machine-like, supremely in command of his strokes, and not lending an inch to the opposition. He continued to take on the spinners after he’d crossed 150, ultimately losing his wicket to the slog sweep that formed the basis of his innings.

There was little to complain from the previous 230 balls though; Rohit walked back, having rediscovered his true big-innings appetite. Since then, he’s been virtually undroppable in the format. It also formed the cornerstone for India’s comeback into the series, re-establishing control over their proud home territory.

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