‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ – this particular phrase well and truly sums up Rohit Sharma’s stay at the crease, even if it is for a brief period. It is a visual treat for the eyes to see him caress the ball by manufacturing a gap with geometrical precision and sheer timing. Cricket fans and experts sing praises of his batting prowess irrespective of their nationality.
Alas! Rohit is an anomaly of perfection. Even his most ardent admirers would admit that the Mumbaikar is an enigma. He can leave you awestruck by executing some of the most jaw-dropping strokes with absolute finesse and bewildered about his utter recklessness within the space of few deliveries.
Considering the fact that we are living in a social media era, where everything is scrutinized to the core, it is difficult for players not to get a stick from fans and critics. Although criticism for any player’s failure or sub-standard performance is totally justified, it might not always reveal the clear picture.
For instance, during India’s tour of South Africa earlier this year, all the visiting batsmen except for skipper Virat Kohli struggled to cope with the heat of Proteas pace battery but Rohit faced the special wrath from fans and critics. Many experts asserted that things have reached to such an extent that the 31-year-old should not don the whites for India again. Twitterati were quite harsh with their savage trolling as well.
With Rohit now being dropped from the one-off Test against Afghanistan, the burning question that has once again popped up is – ‘Should he never represent India in red-ball cricket again?’ Well, let’s try to assess Rohit Sharma’s credentials in his 25-Test-old career thus far.
Not given a longer run like his contemporaries
Despite scoring back to back hundreds (177 and 111*) in his debut Test series against the West Indies, Rohit has never been given a long run in the traditional format of the game. In his 25 Tests, Sharma has played five Tests in a row only thrice and on two occasions the right-hander has averaged above 55.
|Instances of 5 consecutive Tests||Runs||Average||100s||50s|
While there is no guarantee that Rohit would have been a sure shot success had he been given an extended run to prove his mettle in the Test arena but then it is inappropriate to judge his credentials on the basis of intermittent opportunities.
Injuries haven’t helped Rohit’s cause either. In February 2010, a freak toe injury while warming-up just before the Nagpur Test against South Africa delayed his Test debut for more than three years. When the Mumbai batsman was finally coming to terms with red-ball cricket two seasons ago, he picked up a thigh injury which ruled him out from the five-match Test series against England at home and the subsequent Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Uncertainty over his batting position
In his brief career of 43 Test innings, Sharma has batted at a variety of batting positions from the crucial No.3 to batting with the tail. At times, skipper Virat Kohli and chief coach Ravi Shastri have also seemed perplexed with regards to his batting position. During the tour Down Under in 2014-15, Rohit was given an opportunity to bat at No.3 in Sydney Test wherein he registered the scores of 53 and 39 respectively. Subsequently, the duo of Kohli and then team director Shastri endorsed him as an ideal No.3 candidate.
"He [Rohit] has done well in Australia when he has batted at three. I think he needs to get more opportunity there. Once he settles there, he could be the catalyst in the middle order. He can keep the scoring rate going. He is so naturally gifted that once he gets in, he has got massive scores for Mumbai. We want to give him that game time and give him ample opportunity to get that big score and in quick time," Kohli had said while addressing the media prior to the 2015 Galle Test against Sri Lanka.
Echoing Kohli's statement, Ravi Shastri had said: "Rohit is a class player. It's just a case of him smelling the coffee, spending some time in the middle and getting a start, and then we know what he can do. It could be a good position [No.3] for him because he has that ability to counter attack and yet at the same time he will have to be tight.”
However, after India’s heart-breaking 63-run defeat and Rohit’s failure in the Galle Test, the right-hander was demoted to No. 5 and was sent out to bat at No.6 and No.3 in the subsequent home Test series against South Africa.
|Different batting slots for Rohit in Tests||Innings||Runs||Average||100s||50s|
The above table clearly indicates that Sharma is most equipped to bat at No.6 position. However, the constant shuffling in the batting order has brought about his downfall. When a player is not sure of even his batting position, let alone his place in the playing XI, it can certainly dent his confidence.
Is the criticism justified?
It may be that Rohit Sharma is yet to come in grip of Test cricket, it may be that the media and the fans are right to vent their criticism at him, but blowing his failures out of proportion is certainly not fair on him. Whether he deserves to play red-ball cricket for India again, let's leave the decision to the selectors and the team management.
Stellar ODI/First-Class record affirm his class
Inarguably, Rohit has been India’s most consistent batsman in one-day internationals after Virat Kohli since he became an opener in 2013. Since the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, Sharma is averaging 55.91 in ODI cricket with 4529 runs in 91 innings. Only the marvellous Indian captain (Kohli) is ahead of him with 5534 runs from 110 innings at an average of 66.67.
Moreover, Rohit is the only player in ODI history to have scored three double tons (209 vs AUS, 264 vs SL, 208* vs SL), which shows his appetite and ability to play long innings. His stellar record in First-Class cricket for Mumbai (6456 runs across 133 innings at an average of 54.71 with the highest score of 309*) is a testament of his class.
In the very first season of his international career (2007-08), Sharma had received the ultimate accolade from the legendary Australia captain Ian Chappell, who deemed the Mumbaikar as the most gifted young batsman in the world and also predicted a great future for him in Test cricket.
Four years later (2011-12), when India toured Down Under and were getting thrashed by the Aussies in the longest format, Chappell had advocated for Sharma’s inclusion in the Test squad at the expense of senior pros.
In fact, Chappell recently expressed his disappointment that Sharma didn’t live up to his expectations.
"Rohit Sharma has been one of my great disappointments. When I first saw him in a few one day games in Australia in 2007-08 and the way he played the short pitched delivery, I said to myself, 'This guy is a very good player and he will be good in all conditions'. He has been very good in limited overs cricket, particularly in ODIs. I mean, how can you score 264 in a 50-over game? He is a terrific player with all the ability. The disappointment for me is he hasn't produced the goods in Test cricket," Chappell had told India Today in April 2018.
Given the fact that there are many late bloomers in the 141-year long history of Test cricket, a couple of series at a fixed batting position might see Rohit accomplishes what he deserves to and not what the critics think he is worthy of. As former England captain Nasser Hussain recently said: “you can’t be as talented as Rohit Sharma and not crack test cricket .. India needs to stick with him !! Don’t worry about the stats use your eyes and gut feeling..”