Rohit Sharma has been frustrating so far in South Africa. India need to drop him and give opportunities to the deserving ones.
The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 is approximately some 15 months away. Leading to that, whatever limited-overs series India play, the strategy will be set keeping the ICC tournament in mind. The road to the World Cup will be extremely crucial for both, the team and the players as the international matches, that will be coming the Indians’ way are nothing but their practice for the World Cup. Hence, their key players on performing poorly will be given enough additional chances in order to return into the grove. Rohit Sharma’s example is the precise explanation to that. There are no doubts about Rohit being India’s first choice opener in the ODIs with Shikhar Dhawan and the past results have backed these two for the role.
Considering Rohit’s unstable overseas form, India must get started by training the player who would fit into India’s backup plan during team’s crisis that would happen due to Rohit’s out-of-form. Here is the deal – Rohit was roped in the Indian squad after his terrific home performance against a volatile Sri Lanka. What followed next? Rohit’s scores of 11, 10, 10 and 47 in the first two Tests before he was dropped from the third one. The Indian team and management had hopes from him in the ODI series, since Rohit has been their double-century specialist, the only cricketer to have recorded three double tons in the 50-over format. Rohit averaged above 70 in 2017 with six centuries and five fifties in the ODIs and he certainly was a key member who could help India avenge their Test series loss to South Africa.
Rohit’s repetitive misfiring
Prior to the ODI series, Rohit averaged a pathetic 12 in South Africa and by the time, the fourth ODI ended, which India lost, Rohit’s average slipped down to 11. In the first three ODIs, which India won, Rohit registered pitiful scores of 20, 15 and a zero. India decided to still persist with him; it was not shocking anymore to watch Rohit dismissed for just five runs in the fourth ODI and eventually India fell short by some 15-20 runs.
The Indian skipper Virat Kohli, who already has two centuries from four ODIs so far in the series, was the major force behind India’s victory in the first three ODIs. When he failed to convert his good start into a big knock in the next game, India ended short of a few runs which cost them the game. But, you cannot always expect Kohli to step up because of the failure of the same batsman, time and again. Whenever both the openers gave a team the perfect start, the following batsmen, on most of the occasions delivered. The good starts kept pressure off the team and that allowed them to play their natural game.
While India need a win to seal the six-ODI series, South Africa will do everything they can to defeat the Indian team in the final two ODIs to deny India a series win by drawing it. Just in a hope of Rohit firing someday, India cannot put an entire series at stake. Let’s assume, Rohit failed to score runs in three or four consecutive matches in the World Cup, will India then still hold on with him, risking the whole tournament? Hopefully, the answer would be a big no here. In order to re-do the playing XI during Rohit’s bad patch, India must have a player, who would have played enough international cricket in the recent times.
Why not try Manish Pandey?
In the current Indian squad, there is Manish Pandey on India’s bench, who certainly has been picked, again keeping the World Cup in mind. It won’t be fair on Pandey to be exposed to the intense level like the World Cup without prior international cricket practice. There can not be a better opportunity than the current situation to test Pandey’s abilities during high-pressure and fierce match situations. The Indian team, courtesy of their duo of wrist spinners, royally dominated the Proteas in the first three ODIs before the latter finally found answers to Kuldeep yadav and Chahal. That has made the fifth ODI even more critical, where the Indian team cannot afford to take things lightly. They need players to justify their roles and thrive through pressure situations.
This would be like a tailor-made platform for Pandey to prove his potential and mark his name stronger for the upcoming World Cup. For the fifth ODI, India must bench the out-of-form Rohit, elevate No. 4 Ajinkya Rahane to open with Dhawan and fit Pandey at his regular No. 4 spot. Initially, Rahane was considered an opening batsman until sometime back when he was pushed to the middle-order. he averages better as an opener, 45.09, in comparison to his No.4 place (36.40). That showed that Rahane will have no issues India changed his position during a crisis time.
Time for India to think long-term
Meanwhile, Pandey has been a regular face in the Indian squad but somehow, he has played the majority of his international cricket at home, so far in his career. His away tours have been only to Zimbabwe, Australia, and Sri Lanka. He played one ODI in Zimbabwe, which was his international debut, where he scored an unbeaten 71. More than a year later, he made a second away tour with the Indian team that played five ODIs Down Under. However, Pandey was given three ODIs there. Out of which, he did not bat at Perth, scored a six at Brisbane and smashed his maiden ODI hundred at Sydney, finishing unbeaten on 104.
Pandey then was a part of the playing XI in all the three ODIs against Zimbabwe at their backyard. But, he did not get a chance to bat in two games and he scored a four not out in one. In the five-ODI series in Sri Lanka in 2017, Pandey was played only in two ODIs. He scored a 36 and 50 not out. If India see Pandey as a long-term prospect, including the 2019 World Cup, only nine away ODIs or overall 22 ODIs, clearly are not enough for his growth and development as a batsman.
More than the already established cricketers, India must concentrate on the likes of Pandey and Shreyas Iyer who were promoted to the senior team after years of proving their numbers in the domestic circuit.
Mis-firing Rohit already has cut down the Indian team with one batsman so there should not be any fear of losing a good batsman’s spot for Pandey. In fact, the thinking process should go in a positive direction that if Pandey goes on to deliver, it will only strengthen India’s chances in the series. Theoretically, this would work brilliantly. But, taking in account Kohli’s tremendous faith in Rohit, these changes seem unlikely. Let’s see, if Team India does take this brave step!