Ever ventured into the psychological trance of a sportsman who has to dish in his best performance each time he is given an opportunity, well aware that no matter the result, a permanent spot is not for the taking? Ever felt the helplessness of a cricketer who docks up a hard-fought century or rams in with a five-wicket haul, only to know in the deepest of his hearts that his contributions will be overlooked for a younger player, who might not be as talented but seems to fit into the scheme of things just perfectly? Ever wondered how unfair a game of cricket can turn out to be for that one individual who has been harping on a spot in the final eleven, only to be shown the door when another talent crops up?
Unfair, isn’t it? Cruel, as well. But that is what makes the game of cricket so enticing and so challenging. Not only does it test one’s all-round skills but also wrings one of all emotions- leaving a player a well-polished machine who only knows how to score a hundred or to snatch the wickets in every chance that is given to him.
It will not be difficult to gauge the predicament that Rohit Sharma will be in after he notched up an attacking 102 runs off 160 deliveries in Nagpur against a hapless Sri Lankan attack, a knock that was laced with eight fours and a six. Playing in the whites after a gap of more than twelve months, courtesy injury which was combined with the inability to stamp a resounding mark in Test circuit, Rohit set foot in Jamtha when the score had already breached the 400 mark. With the team in a comfortable position, the Mumbaikar had ample time to settle down. The next few deliveries would either resurrect his dying Test career or bury it even further.
A 173-run partnership with Captain Virat Kohli and a well-earned century later, the dynamics for Rohit have hardly seemed to change. His desperate bids to stake a claim on the final side for the upcoming tour to South Africa ended with a flourishing century but the realistic chances of him actually featuring in them have hardly undergone major transformations. Not only is his own poor track record in Test cricket a reason to blame, but also is the sudden burst of the seaming all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who has nonchalantly gained the trust of both Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri in his very short Test career.
Rohit Sharma, a shadow of Yuvraj Singh in Test cricket
Think of the paradoxical career of Sharma in coloured clothing and the white flannels and one is forced to draw analogies with him and Yuvraj Singh. As ruthless as Yuvraj was in ODI cricket, he was as inconsistent in the five-day format. As mighty a match-winner was the left-hander in the death overs, as susceptible he was while touring countries that offered seam and bounce. Like Yuvraj, Rohit too has followed a similar path.
With consistent match-winning knocks as an opener, he has been able to quell all doubts over his ODI selection but it is his Test career that hardly seems to inspire. He made his debut in 2013 in Kolkata against West Indies with a cracking century and followed it up with another hundred in the very next game in Mumbai, taking the limelight away from Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell, albeit slightly. Having given hopes of a blazing journey henceforth, his career pummelled soon after and for four years, he was unable to score another Test ton.
While his average dipped to 26.33 in overseas conditions with his average reading 11.25, 17.00 and 28.83 in South Africa, England and Australia, respectively, tactics to push him up the order failed to click as well. Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped to accommodate Rohit at number 3 in Tests. Ajinkya Rahane was thrown in at number 3 to fit Rohit in at number 5. But he failed to grasp on, just scoring seven half-centuries in 17 matches. The moment to leave an everlasting mark eluded him and as Karun Nair scored a triple century and the likes of Shreyas Iyer further rose in the domestic circuit, Rohit’s dream for a permanent Test spot remained just that- a blurry dream.
The end of the long search for Hardik Pandya
As Rohit, the newly-appointed vice-captain of the Indian ODI side scratched his head trying to formulate ways to enter the Test team and make his mark; India’s search for the elusive all-rounder finally bore fruit. With Hardik Pandya busting his presence in Indian cricket with a swashbuckling demeanour, which was displayed in the Indian Premier League and in the shorter formats, Kohli decided to push him in the grind straightaway, giving him his Test debut in August this year. Batting at number eight, the eccentric player, layered in tattoos and streaks in his hairstyle, answered with a century in the series, also picking up 4 wickets in the three Tests, at an average of 20.
What then has made him a certainty for a pick in the final eleven in South Africa? Aside from Pandya’s knuckleball, which visibly disturbed the Australians when they toured India earlier this year, the addition of the extra 15kmph to his bowling has made him a bowler that will prove more than effective in conditions that will assist the fast bowlers.
As a batsman, he does not shy away from going for his shots, even against the mightiest of bowlers. With Kohli already having compared Pandya to England’s Ben Stokes, one can rest be assured that he will not hesitate to go on with his ploy of playing with five bowlers, with Pandya being more than a handy batsman as well.
Equipped with a carefree attitude, the Baroda all-rounder has, in all probability, managed to trump Rohit for a secure spot in South Africa, and once again one is forced to ponder over the unfortunate situation that Rohit has found himself to be in where even a double century would have hardly been enough!