With Rohit as Test opener, improbable targets can become reality for India: Sanjay Bangar
Sanjay Bangar has high hopes from Rohit Sharma excelling in Tests. (AFP Image)

Outgoing batting coach Sanjay Bangar believes if Rohit Sharma excels as a Test opener for India, the team can chase down targets it never has before. Opener in limited-overs since 2013, Rohit is set to experience a new phase in his career after he was picked as an opener for the three Tests against South Africa.

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The idea of Rohit opening in Tests was one that was initially backed by former India opener Sourav Ganguly, after which current head coach Ravi Shastri had said that trying him out is one of the priorities on his agenda. Rohit, however, has never opened in Tests, but with Hanuma Vihari seemingly cementing his place as the new No. 6, Bangar reckons India can benefit heavily from Rohit succeeding at the top, even though it promises to pose its set of challenges.

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“At the moment, there is no place in the settled middle order in the Test team. Opening will be a new challenge for him, since he has rarely done it in the longer formats. 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,” Bangar told ESPNcricinfo.

“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. The key to his success will be if he maintains his individual style of play. He has to maintain his individuality.”

Bangar’s fie-year-long tenure as India’s batting coach concluded with the selectors naming Vikram Rathour as his replacement. He came on board in 2014, shortly after the tour of England, where India had endured a 1-3 defeat. One of the prime concerns from that tour was Virat Kohli’s horror run, which saw him score just 134 runs. With scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0,7, 6 and 20 in the five Tests of the England Tour 2014, Virat Kohli averaged 13.50 in his ten innings, and Bangar recalls how he helped the then-vice-captain overcome the slump.

“That time the positioning of his back-foot toe was towards cover-point at the time of release, which led to his hips opening. That also did not allow his bat’s downswing to come in a vertical plane. He worked tirelessly to iron out those flaws,” Bangar said.

“The thing that is unique with Virat is that he is always on the lookout for improving his game. He was willing to make minor adjustments suggested, if he believed it could help him. So we worked on aspects like width of his stance, his backlift, his head position etc.”

Bangar also explained his relationship with Ajinkya Rahane and how working closely helped India’s vice-captain rediscover his touch. Rahane went through a lean phase where the big hundreds had stopped coming – he went nearly two years without a century in Tests – before he finally ended the drought against West Indies. Rahane played the final Test in South Africa before scoring 257 runs from five matches at 25.70 in England and 217 from seven innings at an average of 31 during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy last December.

“Rahane missed out on converting a lot of fifties into hundreds in the last 18 months or so, but otherwise, he contributed in all our overseas victories. He contributed in Johannesburg, in Nottingham and in Adelaide,” Bangar said.

“We worked a lot on leading with his head and shoulder to get a proper stride into the shot, and also on finishing his trigger movements before the ball was released. I was very happy for him that he eventually crossed the three-figure mark in West Indies, where once again he played a pivotal role under seaming conditions.

“He has been very gracious in acknowledging that the things we’ve worked on together have helped him at various points.”