Johannesburg: Rohit Sharma, as leader of the side, wants to achieve what past Indian teams have not in the past 31 years — a series victory in South Africa — but even that won’t be able to heal the scars of World Cup final defeat.
The skipper wants his unit to be the first one to win a series in the Rainbow Nation in India’s ninth attempt since 1992.
“These are very important matches in terms of where we stand as a team. Also to look back that we have never won a series here as well, it’s a big opportunity for us to do well here,” Rohit said on the eve of the opening Test.
“We came pretty close the last two times when we toured here but again we have come to this place with lot of confidence to try and achieve what nobody (Indian) team has ever achieved in this part of the world,” the skipper said, exuding confidence.
So will it act as a balm for the World Cup final defeat and he was straight?
“I don’t know whether a Test series win in South Africa can be a balm for a World Cup final defeat. I mean World Cup is the World Cup. Itni mehnaat ki haai, kuch toh result milein. (We have been working so hard, it’s time we get some big results). We all want that,” Rohit answered typically in his sweet style.
However, Mohammed Shami, who played a big role in the 2021 Test win at Centurion, will be missed due to his left heel injury.
“What he has done for our team over the years, obviously it’s a big miss but someone will come in place of him, try and fill in that role and it will not be easy but we have confidence,” said Rohit.
“Prasidh (Krishna) extracts a lot of bounce due to his height and Mukesh can swing the ball. We were supposed to have a look at the pitch today and decide whether we want someone to bowl up or back. We have 75 percent decided and the rest 25 percent we would tomorrow,” the skipper replied with a wry smile.
South Africa isn’t exactly a dream destination for batters and in Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill, and Yashasvi Jaiswal, the team has three top-order players, playing a Test here for the first time.
“That’s a challenge. But at some point, we (him, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul) were also newcomers when we came to South Africa or Australia or England. And it’s the same for these guys as well.”
KL is a short-term option, the skipper indicates: KL Rahul keeping wickets is not exactly team management’s long-term plan but certainly for this series where it gives the team the cushion to play an extra batter.
“I don’t know how long he wants to keep but he is quite keen to take up the role,” Rohit said, indicating that against England on rank turners with three spinners in operation, this won’t be the best idea.
But he is happy that Rahul was flexible enough to accept the challenge.
“Look every cricketer needs to go through some kind of transformation in their career, hardly few players, who start at one position and play throughout in that position, KL is one of them.
“The way he (Rahul) kept in World Cup, it was quite pleasing. He is working hard and he is quite keen to take up that role, so it gives us an option to play a solid batter at either No 5, 6, or 7,” said Rohit.
He also indicated that Rahul will bat in the middle order as his experience and game awareness in those slots in invaluable.
“He got 100 last time while opening the innings. But this time, he will play in middle order, we have seen he does most of the things right in that position in ODIs.
“He bats in the middle order, he understands situations and is an experienced player. He knows what exactly what is required at different stages of the game and gives us solid balance,” he said.