India head coach Ravi Shastri said he had advised Rohit Sharma to start opening the batting in red ball cricket for Mumbai back in 2015-16. Rohit has been selected as a designated Test opener for the first time in his career for the three-match series against South Africa starting on October 2.

In an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times, Shastri said he always knew Rohit had the X-factor and he can become a match-winner even in Test cricket.

“I told Rohit, way back in 2015-16, to start opening for Mumbai. 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,” said Shastri.

Rohit, primarily a middle order batsman in the early stage of his career, was asked to open in an ODI series for the first time in 2011. He did not achieve much success but then captain MS Dhoni backed him for the job again in 2013 and this time around Rohit grabbed the opportunity with both hands and since then there has been no looking back for the right hander.

Shastri cited his own transformation from a middle order batsman to an opener to explain Rohit’s case. “That is the main reason why I told him in 2015 because I was speaking from my experience. There are a lot of players who should have opened for India, just to eliminate a batsman, 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,” Shastri added.

The India head coach also pointed out the success former India cricketer Virender Sehwag had at the top of the order. “I had met Sehwag at a team get-together on the West Indies tour (for ODIs in 2001-02) when there was talk of asking him to open (in Tests), and I had a chat of 15 minutes where I told him to ‘go for it because that could be your best position’. The rest is history, he made it his own. I told him opening is just a mind game. (A month later, India toured England and Sehwag opened in the Tests),” Shastri added.