Rohit Sharma Remains the Best Bet at No. 6 in Tests vs Australia
The year 2018 was supposed to be Rohit Sharma's year in Tests. The Hitman was coming off a 2017 which included 1,293 ODI runs in 21 matches at an average of 71.83, second only to Virat Kohli in world cricket.
“This is destined to be the coming of age year for Rohit Sharma in Test matches,” the pundits opined.
What followed was a string of low scores on the tour of South Africa – 11, 10, 10 and 47. India's star-to-be in Tests was pushed to the obscurity of the bench again. A seven-Test exile followed.
Now, with India's strategy of playing five specialist batsmen clearly not working, Rohit has a golden opportunity on his hands. The no. 6 spot in the Indian Test team is still up for grabs with the team trying to fit in the likes of Hanuma Vihari and Karun Nair.
Been There, Done That
The fact that Rohit Sharma batted beautifully with the tail in his debut Test series against Windies and in a couple of Tests in the last home season thereafter throws weight behind slotting him at no. 6. In Australia, where lower order runs will be crucial, he can prove to be the difference between a 300-run respectable total and a 450-run winning total. His experience and ability to stitch partnerships with the tail gives him an edge over Vihari.
There can be times Down Under when Rohit is at the crease around the 80th over mark when the second new ball is due. Given his exploits of opening the batting in the shorter format for half a decade now, he would be better equipped to see off the red cherry more than any other batsman.
Rohit also knows the art of scoring big. His three double centuries in ODIs and his highest first-class score of 309* are a testament to this fact. In fact, he has held the record of the being the batsman with India’s top ODI score every year since 2013.
Rohit has been there, done that; more so in the ODIs. He has shown glimpses of what he can do at the Test level as well. The need of the hour is to marry the inherent talent with the elusive consistency.
A Real Value Addition
The 31-year-old can accelerate seamlessly when need be. Being good against both spinners and pacers obviously helps. And then there is his backfoot play. Rohit's cuts, pulls and hooks are second to none in international cricket. In Australia, where there is not as much movement as in places like England or South Africa and pitches offer true pace and bounce, he remains the best bet at No 6.
Rohit has taken over slip fielding duties from Shikhar Dhawan in the ODIs. This has been possibly done to help him sharpen his reflexes for Australia. The Mumbai Indians’ skipper has also pouched a couple of blinders at his new fielding position. This is reassuring for the fallible Indian slip cordon.
Rohit is also the vice-captain of the Indian ODI team. He recently led the team to the Asia Cup title with commendable aplomb. He along with Ajinkya Rahane can certainly be a calming influence on the excitable Virat Kohli.
A Wounded Lion
Rohit must be hurting deep down after being sidelined from the Indian scheme of things for Tests. Now is the time for him to do justice to his potential in the longest format. What would be ideal, as best put in his own words, is to ‘enjoy the game’.
“I want to be part of the team, but it is not in my hands. I have to wait for the opportunity [Test selection], whenever it comes, I have to be ready for it… I need to enjoy my game. The first five-six years of my career, it was all about ‘oh, will I be picked? Will I play’! Now it’s all about enjoying the game. These things keep adding pressure on you. Instead, it’s best to enjoy yourself in what you do and give your best.”Rohit Sharma
Too Good to Fail Repeatedly
Despite having all the talent in the world, it took him years to translate that into performances in ODIs. But when he finally came good, he is more than making up for it. Rohit averages over 55 since 2013 as opposed to an average of 30.43 before that.
The Mumbaikar is too good a batsman to not come up with the goods. If the team sticks with him for some more time, he certainly has all the shots in the book and the temperament to make No 6 his own.
After 967 ODI runs at an average of almost 70 in 2018, Rohit has yet again broken the door of the Test squad on form. The Australia tour is now touted as the probable coming of age Test series for the Hitman. Remember, 2018 is not yet over folks!
(Saksham Mishra is a budding sports journalist, a student of Radio and TV journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)