Few players exhilarate and exasperate in equal measure as Rohit Sharma. 1530 runs in 16 Tests at home at an average of 80.52 with seven hundreds. 945 runs in 20 away Tests at an average of 27 with a best of 79. What does one make of Rohit Sharma’s shockingly contrasting numbers? Following a below-par show in the two Tests Down Under, Rohit struggled in the first Test at home against England as well, in Chennai. Under extreme pressure, the talented stroke-maker shut critics with a sublime hundred on a turning first-day track at Chepauk. But, is it enough to make India believe that he can be our Test opener irrespective of the conditions?
If we observe Rohit’s unpredictable Test career closely, there has been a pattern to his performances. Opener or not, every time he has gone abroad, India have hoped that he will prove himself and cement his place. On one foreign tour after the other though, he has returned with more answers than questions. The Australia series was the latest in a growing list. Injuries haven’t helped his cause. After an incredible start to his Test career as an opener in India, the Mumbai batsman missed the Test leg of the New Zealand series. We ended up losing both the Tests and were left wondering if Rohit could have made a difference.
Question marks started hanging over his place again following Australia and the first Test against England. But, as he has so often done in the past, the 33-year-old displayed his incredible talent yet again. Even if his knock of 161 came in India, it was a high-quality innings in every sense. The pitch was turning square from Day 1 and someone needed to play a bold knock to seize the initiative. Rohit did the same. His innings at Chennai was not only a reiteration of his humungous talent but also solid proof of the smart cricketing brain that he possesses. Rohit judged the conditions brilliantly and took it upon himself to play a blazing knock. Another failure would have brought the swords closer but the aggressive opener put the team before himself and did the job for the team. Knocks like the one at Chennai make fans and critics wonder why he can’t replicate the same away from home.
Should Rohit tone down his aggression away from home?
While Rohit is undoubtedly a legend in the limited-overs format, his legacy in Test cricket will be decided over the next couple of years, particularly when India travel abroad, provided he remains fit. It is rather baffling that Rohit has been unable to deliver in the longer version away from home even as he has been a match-winner in the shorter formats across the globe. Rohit has all the shots to succeed in Tests away from home. He is arguably the best puller and hooker in the Indian cricket team at present. Yet, he has consistently failed to deliver in Tests abroad.
In some ways, Rohit’s career progression in Tests has been similar to that of Yuvraj Singh’s. However, while the technical deficiencies in the southpaw’s career were quite evident when it came to the red-ball format, the same cannot be said of Rohit. He has a reasonable technique and fluid movement. If there is one aspect that has hurt him, it has been his impetuous stroke play. Some pundits may call it his natural game. But, when someone gets out repeatedly in the same manner it ought to be looked at as a deficiency in the player’s game.
Playing in India, Rohit may continue to rack up some big scores and may even add to his seven Test tons at home. But that wouldn’t answer the puzzle with regards to Rohit the away Test batsman. India need to wait till they visit England for that. Or maybe we should just accept Rohit as a home Test specialist. Far-fetched thought? The debate is ‘open’.