The Curious Case of Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma hits one behind the bowler against Sri Lanka

Rohit Sharma, arguably, the most hated or most critiqued cricketer to have ever played the game. Many feel he is the most luckiest cricketer but it’s the other way around as no one would get injured minutes before toss and miss an entire home season of test matches when in prime form.

Rohit Sharma broke into the Indian team backed by some strong performances at first-class level with his ODI debut against Ireland in 2007.

But, it was the T-20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 that saw the gifted Rohit made a real impact with that brilliant 50 not out, combined with some athletic fielding to get rid of dangerous Justin Kemp off a direct-hit, which saw him in his own on the big state — having walked in at 31–3 to string what turned out to be a match-wining partnership with captain M.S. Dhoni.

Many remember the innings of Gautam Gambhir in the 2007 World T20 final against Pakistan at Johannesburg, but there was Rohit who left an indelible impression with a very handy 16-ball 30 to set the foundation for a defendable total

Ironically, immediately, after the T-20 World Cup, India played Australia at home in a seven-match ODI series, in which he got to play only one game!.

Rohit’s next notable performance was against Pakistan in a lost cause — 52 — building a partnership with Yuvraj Singh to see the team score 300+ score in Jaipur ODI.

He then toured Australia for the triangular series that involved Sri Lanka as the third team. His knock in one of the finals where he joined the great Sachin Tendulkar to put together a match winning partnership was one of the highlights. During the course of the tournament, the likes of Ian Chappell felt that he is the next big thing to happen in Indian Cricket after watching his heroics.

While he was still waiting for his chance to break into the Indian Test team he was continuing to pile up runs at the first-class level. Also, during this phase he became the fifth batsman to score hundreds in both innings of the Ranji Trophy final against Uttar Pradesh in Hyderabad. Incidentally, this was also the game where a19-year old Bhuvneshwar Kumar got rid Sachin Tendulkar for zero to hand the latter his only duck in an illustrious first-class career.

The gifted batsman from Mumbai had a modest start to his ODI career, scoring 532 runs at an average of 25.33 from 28 innings in the year 2008 with three fifties batting lower down the order.

In 2008, Australia toured India for 4-match series, the famous farewell series of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble. Before, the start of the tour he was picked in the Board President’s XI team to play the visitors in Hyderabad where he and Virat Kohli scored a magnificent hundred (105) against a top-quality Australian bowling line-up which included the likes of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle. But, still he couldn’t break into the side because of the famous Fab Four (Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman) along with Sehwag.

Finally, Rohit got a chance in Indian Test team for the Sri Lanka tour which had become famous for Sehwag’s scintillating double hundred against an attack led by the then mystery spinner, Ajantha Mendis, but still did fit in the scheme of things.

In the midst of all this, Rohit has been showing glimpses of his talent in both ODIs and T-20 internationals. And, has been amongst top run-scorers in the domestic circuit, during which he also made a strong case of his selection in the longer format by scoring a brilliant triple hundred (309 not out) against Gujarat at Mumbai in December 2009.

Then, it was time for India to face South Africa at home in 2009. Rohit was named captain of the Board President’s XI team that faced the visitings Proteas team at Nagpur for the two-day warm-up game. VVS Laxman, was having issues with his back, and Rohit was asked to stay back in Nagpur as a cover for him. But destiny deemed otherwise on the eve of the Test match, for when he was to walk in place of Rohit, he picked up a freak injury — minutes before the toss while warming up for the day’s play and had to wait until 2013 to make his test debut.

During years 2009–2011, he was constantly getting picked in the limited overs team but he wasn’t as consistent as one would have liked for various reasons and also missed the bus for the 2011 World Cup that was played at home. After the World Cup, he came up with some consistent performances and then there was lean patch in Sri Lanka where he couldn’t put bat to ball in the ODI series.

That probably was the worst phase of his career so far. One would argue that he was given numerous chances to cement his place, conveniently forgetting that he rarely got the chance to showcase his skills in a line-up which had the likes of Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Dhoni in the top-four. His numbers were not that bad for a player batting in the middle-order, where scored 1337 runs from 43 innings at an average of 39.32 while batting at 4 or below during 2009–2012 period.

It was during this phase, Virat Kohli has slowly started to get noticed with his performances in the limited-overs internationals that pushed the selectors to hand him a Test debut too. Rohit, was once again named in the test team that travelled down under in 2011–2012 tour because of his strong showing in the domestic circuit. Virat, having made his debut already was given few a chance ahead of Rohit in the first few tests. Virat, along with some of the other batters, haven’t found form. But, M.S. Dhoni persisted with Virat for the remaining test matches and rest is history since then as he notched up a brilliant hundred in Adelaide Oval. There was murmurs that the classy VVS Laxman might be dropped to give Rohit a chance in the final Test when the series was lost but the great Hyderabadi retained his place given his outstanding record against Aussies. Incidentally, it also happened to be Laxman’s last Test.

Later, in 2012, M.S. Dhoni pushed Rohit to open in the ODIs when other openers were struggling to find form during the home series against England. And, Rohit repaid the trust of his captain with a match-winning 86 in Mohali and from there on we it was a different Rohit Sharma in limited overs.

India’s next big assignment was the 2013 Champions Trophy in England where he was joined by Shikkar Dhawan at the top of the order. Both, went to give India good starts which was one of the key-factors for India winning that edition. While Rohit may not have scored a hundred but he contributed with a couple of fifties and ended up being the second-highest run scorer behind Shikkar Dhawan.

Following the Champions Trophy performances, Rohit Sharma scored a whopping 491 runs in the 7-match series against Australia at home which also included his maiden double century at Bangalore in the series decider.

After his heroics against Australia, he was handed the Test debut in the famous Tendulkar Farewell series against the Windies. He went to become the 3rd batsman after Mohd Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly, to score hundreds in his first two Test outings and was named Man-of-the-Series.

India then travelled to South Africa for two-Test series where he had a poor run but was putting up very good performances in the limited overs cricket.

Next stop was New Zealand for a two-Test series where he scored 122 runs from two games at an average of 40.66 with one fifty which was not too bad as it was a still much better showing than the likes of Pujara (15 avg), Vijay (12 avg).

The big difference between Rohit when compared to Virat and Rahane during their early stages of Test career was that they were converting their 50 into 100s while Rohit was getting dismissed for fifties.

Rohit found himself out of the eleven as India decided to go ahead with an all-rounder at №6, wicketkeeper Saha at 7 during the England tour in 2014. He was dropped for the first two Tests, picked for the third test and then dropped for the remaining two matches.

Interestingly, rest of the batsman including the likes of Kohli, Pujara also failed during the entire series. On the other hand the notable contributions were a 99 from Murali Vijay and a hundred from Ajinkya Rahane at Lords.

While, he was in and out of the eleven in the Test team, he was still consistently performing in the limited overs format of the game.

India then travel to Australia for 4-match Test series before the World Cup, he played first game, dropped for the second and was back for the last two games where scored 173 from six innings. During the final Test in Sydney he was promoted to number 3 where scored fifty in the first innings and 30-odd in the second and was dismissed because of Steve Smith’s brilliance in the slip-cordon where he held on to a low catch diving full length to his right, such was his luck.

The problem with Rohit Sharma in Test cricket was that he never got to play a full series and there was always a doubt whether he would be picked for the next series or not and was always fighting for the place in the team.

More often than not he became the scapegoat for many overseas series loses. Because of his overseas form he would often lose his place in the team for home series where other batsmen made merry.

In the midst of all this, there was one series in Sri Lanka, where he was the second highest run-scorer (202) behind Virat Kohli (233) from three games, during which he scored a match winning fifty in the second innings of the third to set a target of 386 for the home team.

India are up against South Africa at home for 4 match series. Rohit, finds himself out of the team for the first two Tests as India decided to go with five bowlers. Picked for the last two Tests, he failed to make an impact. Then, he was promoted to №3 in the final innings of the series in Delhi but was cleaned up by a peach of a delivery from Morne Morkel of the very first ball he faced.

Next was New Zealand series at home, where scored fifties 238 runs at an average of 79.33 which included another match-winning score 86 at the Eden Gardens under trying conditions.

Rohit was slowly settling into the Test side and stringing together consistent performances whenever he was getting an opportunity and then came another freak injury while batting against the Kiwis in the one-layer at Vizag because of which he had to miss the entire home season.

Rohit Sharma of India shows his frustration behind the stumps during the second Test match between South Africa and India held at the Supersport park Cricket Ground in Centurion, South Africa

The stylish batsman was picked for the away series against South Africa, ahead of Ajinkya Rahane who has been struggling to find form since 2016 New Zealand series. And, again gets dropped after the second Test in favour or Rahane. Interestingly, he averages better than the likes of Pujara, Vijay who get to play the whole series.

India then played the Afghanistan at home, which was their inaugural Test match, for which he was dropped and was also ignored for the on-going Test series in England despite scoring a couple of hundreds in limited overs leg of the tour along with a 97 against Ireland in the two-match T20Is.

While he was in and out of the Test eleven, he did not let that affect his limited-overs game. He was also the second highest scorer for India in the 2015 Cricket World Cup and became only second Indian after Sourav Ganguly to score a hundred in an ICC knockout game.

Also, during this phase he went to become the first batsman to score two double hundreds in ODI cricket, during the same innings he also recorded the highest score (264 vs Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens) by a batsman in limited overs International cricket. Incidentally, this was his comeback innings after missing out four months of cricket because of a finger injury that he picked up during the England tour while fielding at the boundary.

In fact, in terms of numbers in ODI’s if not better than Virat Kohli, he is as good as Kohli and one of the pillars of Indian batting line-up along with Virat. For, he also happens to be the only player to have scored a hundred in seven consecutive series, only batsman to have averaged 50-plus for six straight years and also holds the record of highest individual score every calendar year for India.

For someone with the class of Rohit Sharma, and the way he has been performing in the limited-overs it is very hard to imagine that he is not able to earn a permanent slot in the Indian Test team, especially even after scoring three ODI double hundreds which meant facing two new balls from both ends!

Like many players, Rohit too might have some weak areas where he has to improve upon. But, still there is no doubt that he and the captain Virat Kohli are the two best stroke-makers and need to play more Tests if India were to win abroad.

The team management needs to show faith in Rohit and given him the confidence that he would not be on trial in every game he plays — taking a leaf out of Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy who promoted Sehwag to the opener’s slot and which is now acknowledged history.

Remember, even a critic like Nasser Hussain tweeted sometime back that India needs to stick with Rohit — if he is not a Test batsman then he has been watching a different Rohit Sharma over the last five years.

All those who followed Rohit’s career from the very beginning, the only thing that’s troubling him in Test could be the mental aspect — fighting for a place in the side every time he steps out to bat.

Barring Virat Kohli no other batsman in the current squad comes anywhere close to Rohit Sharma and his ability to win games when he is given the freedom to play his game. It’s still not too late to try Rohit in Test matches as the Indians have to leave for Australia on an equally challenging tour!