While Indian skipper Virat Kohli was trotting the globe for his talk of the town marriage functions and celebrations, his ad hoc replacement Rohit Sharma was ruthlessly decimating Sri Lankan bowlers in ODI/T-20 series.
It has been double bonanza for this this elegant batsman – first his double ton in ODI at Mohali and then his mind boggling and swashbuckling T-20 century at Indore.
Make no mistake. These are both huge milestones – once a lifetime sort of. A third ODI double ton and a quickest 35 balls T-20 ton both in span of nine days. It shows that how special bloke Rohit Sharma is.
But then there is a flip side. 10 years down the line after he made his international debut for India in inaugural T-20 World Cup in 2007, Rohit Sharma has only 16 Test matches under his belt, in which he has scored 1401 runs at an average of 42. Don’t be in rush to firm any positive opinion on Rohit’s Test credentials. This statistics looks little healthy essentially because of his performance at home. In 14 Test matches he played outside India, Rohit has scored a meagre 632 runs at an abysmal average of 26.
Now this is really a curious and interesting case. What happens to such clean striker of ball when colour of cloth changes from blue to white?
Let’s try to decode.
First of all Rohit is not the only one suffering with this syndrome. Consider players like Yuvraj Singh & Suresh Raina. If we dig little further, Ajay Jadeja had the similar case as Rohit has. Ajay Jadeja was an outstanding ODI batsman. Cricket freaks still recalls his electrifying cameo in the quarter-final match in 1996 World Cup against Pakistan, when Jadeja brought the whole Chinnaswamy Stadium on its feet. Ajay Jadeja was indisputable part of Indian middle order in ODI for at least 6-7 years but his Test outing was almost always a squib.
So is it so that big and natural hitters (ODI and T-20 specialist) cannot make it big in Test matches; well, the answer would a resounding NO.
There is a template of cricketers who were considered ODI experts initially but then they beautiful carved out a Test career. Take the case of Virender Sehwag and Kevin Peterson (KP). In his initial days, Sehwag was like what Hardik Patel is today –one who could hammer the ball ferociously coupled with handy bowling abilities. Sehwag made his Test debut much later after his ODI debut. He smashed century in very first Test and rest is history. He made his hand-eye coordination a lethal weapon.
KP was not considered Test stuff initially because of his flamboyant playing style. Shane Warne, close friend of KP once revealed that how Warne told English selector to take KP’s Test credentials seriously. Once given chance in Test, KP came out with flying colours.
So why Rohit Sharma is not coming to terms with this template. Reasons are somewhat subtle and line of differentiation in thin. Few reasons can however be listed out. First is that how you handle the short pitch bowling, which plays a prominent role at big stages in Test (Suresh Raina understands this pain). If you can’t counter attack a rising delivery, then at least you should be able to let it go without getting rattled.
The bigger problem however is that how you react to genuine wicket taking deliveries. Issue with Rohit is that when he is in flow, he doesn’t change the course on occasional genuine wicket taking delivery and succumbs. He just gets carried away. Sunil Gavaskar once explained it that you may be enjoying your stroke play but you need to patiently block the odd in-swinging full length ball and need to just pull back when ball is moving out after pitching at good length spot. Restrain and discipline is the key. At Test level, one needs to respect the bowler for what they are, capitalize on your strengths and undermine your weaknesses by counter tactics.
During 2003-04 tour down under Tendulkar was little shaky on deliveries outside off stump. The master did something amazing; during his knock of 241 at Sydney, he simply did not attempt a single cover drive. In another Test down under, McGrath was testing Tendulkar with non-stop deliveries outside off-stump. Sachin was simply leaving them with amazing patience. McGrath gave up finally. Rohit needs to take a cue from here.
It would be a huge loss if such lovely striker of ball doesn’t have a respectful Test career. In fact in 2015 when India visited Australia Ian Chappell tipped Rohit as good a Test prospects for India as Virat Kohli. With his deep understanding of game Ian Chappell’s words can’t be taken lightly and Rohit should not fail him.
Let’s hope that this spirited performance against Sri Lanka and his stint of captaincy would give Rohit the much desired boast for him to rebuild his Test career. Just a little course correction and a one good knock in trying conditions is all that Rohit needs to break the shackle. Let’s see whether South Africa will provide that opportunity to him.