Just 23 Test matches in a decade-long international career — Rohit Sharma has to be one of the most underrated Test cricketers going around. Despite being an integral part of the limited-overs set-up, his talent has never been utilised properly in the longest format of the game. Critics might argue that the Mumbaikar’s questionable temperament as a Test batsman is the prime reason behind his lack of exposure in white clothing, but circumstances have also played its part.
A stop-start Test career
Coming in as a replacement of an injured VVS Laxman, a 22-year Rohit was due to make his Test debut against South Africa in 2010. But on the morning of the match, he injured himself and had to wait three more years to get a Test cap.
Eventually, he did make his debut in 2013 — in Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell series — and scored back to back hundreds, batting at No. 6. However, following that fabulous start, later Rohit failed to carry his form overseas, which allowed Ajinkya Rahane to take his place in the playing eleven and cementing it with some solid performances away from home.
In hindsight, thanks to a spell of career-threatening injury, which saw him missing the bulk of the last home season, the quality of India’s batting line-up and their recent tendency to play five specialist bowlers, Rohit ended up being a backup batsman at the Test arena.
Clearly, so far it has been a story of an unfulfilled promise, much like Eoin Morgan of England.
Well, there is always light at the end of the tunnel and it seems Rohit has finally reached that stage.
In the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka, we saw a different version Rohit — a mature and gutsy individual, who is hungry for runs, but not ready to overcomplicate things. The break from cricket has provided him the time to think about his game and it seems the 30-year old has assessed as well as worked on his problems quite aptly.
And this maturity and calmness were reflecting from his bat — 102*, 65 and 50* — he scored in his last three innings. The performance was good enough to secure his place in the South Africa bound Test squad.
“I am not someone who will think about what has happened in the past. I like to see what is in front of me, and yes, that is how I look at it. When I was inexperienced having just come into the team, there were a lot of things that I used to think about, but not anymore. I have passed that age where I shouldn’t be thinking what happened in the past,” these words of his in the post-match press conference in Nagpur made me believe that I am witnessing Rohit 2.0 here.
“I should be ready for what is ahead of me and that’s what matters. What has happened in the past is gone you can never change it. For me, I can change things looking forward, and looking forward is Delhi [where he scored half-centuries in both innings] Test match and thereafter one-day series and then the South Africa series.”
As we all know, when it comes to Rohit’s batsmanship, talent has never been a problem. Since his early days in international cricket, the elegant right-hander has always been groomed as one for the future. He has almost all the shots in his book, which are needed to be a successful Test batsman. But earlier, when it came to implementation, Rohit struggled.
Now, an experience Rohit is aware of his shortcomings and he knows what exactly is needed to be done.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a cricket match that you have to play, don’t worry about anything else. Initially, my focus was a lot on Test cricket – ‘Oh no, this is Test cricket, I have to do well, I have to do this and that.’ In thinking that I lost a lot of focus and forgot what I was there for and what I needed to do and [now I am] pretty clear in my mind, which is the most important thing.”
Rohit’s utility in upcoming overseas assignments
From India’s point of view, the Rohit 2.0 has resurfaced at the right moment. Starting from the tour of South Africa, India will have busy 18 months with high-profile overseas assignments. On conditions where seam bowlers will have their say and with Rahane being horribly out of form, India are most likely to play an extra batsman, to start the proceedings. And if they do then Rohit is their go-to option.
For a flamboyant batsman like him, who likes to maintain a high strike-rate, No. 6 is an ideal batting position. Someone like Rohit, who opens the batting in limited-overs cricket can handle the second new ball as well as up the ante if needed.
Thus, in all probabilities, the back to back tours of South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand will provide Rohit the much-awaited opportunity to establish himself as a Test batsman, which he couldn’t last time around.