Having played 12 test matches since October 2013, Rohit Sharma – the 28-year old, right-handed Indian batsman, and still the only player with two ODI double centuries to his name – has reached a crossroads in his 8-year long, stop-and-start career. He is no more a newcomer, and yet he is.
At the P Sara Oval
in Colombo, in the second test against Sri Lanka, he was retained by captain Virat Kohli
in a team begging for the calm and stability of Cheteshwar Pujara
. Rohit had been promoted to no. 3 in the batting order for the final test against Australia, and then in the one-off test against Bangladesh. Then, at Galle, he continued in the position, despite it yielding only one half century (Sydney) in five innings. After failing in both innings at Galle, once again, Rohit Sharma
found himself in a familiar position. You’d think a man who started his test career with back-to-back centuries, a man with two ODI doubles, a high career opening average and two T20 domestic titles, wouldn’t find himself fighting for a spot in the first team yet again. But such has been the story of Sharma’s oft-illustrious and oft-checkered career. Many say he will end up like Yuvraj Singh
– a match-winner in limited overs’ cricket, but a lost talent in the longer form. Many even say he resembles the abundance of talent that was Shane Watson
, whose test career finally seems to have been called off by a very patient Australian selection panel.
But two things have happened in Indian cricket recently, which could potentially boost Sharma’s short test career: Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s most solid batsman for the last few years, lost form and had to be dropped from his no. 3 position. And MS Dhoni
stepped down as test captain to be replaced by Virat Kohli
. Kohli, along with Ravi Shastri, is clearly a big believer (and fan) of Rohit’s talent. Like many commentators, he would admire the Mumbaikar when he was on song, and lament his exclusion from the side over the years. Kohli has made it public, time and again, that his favorite batsman is Rohit Sharma. When these scenarios combined, Rohit Sharma – who started his test career at no. 5 and 6, before being replaced by a much more successful Rahane
at the position – had been given yet another lifeline. But this time, he had to return to the team at number 3 – a spot immortalized by Rahul Dravid
Rohit was always too loose and fluent to bat at the position. It seemed like a bad idea to fit him into the team at the exact same position Pujara had specialized in. As demonstrated by Rahane at the P Sara Oval, it’s not an easy position to fill in Indian cricket. So, Kohli and co. decided to drop Rohit back down to no. 5, and put an in-form Rahane up to no. 3.
Rahane pushed, prodded and struggled before being caught in the slips off Prasad with the new ball. It was kind of unfair to Rahane, who was set to become India’s modern-age VVS Laxman
down the order. But Sharma came in at 5, and grinded it out. He knew that this was his last chance. He knew that even Kohli wouldn’t be able to keep the vultures at bay with one more failure. Not too long ago, after scoring a century against Australia in an ODI at Melbourne, Rohit Sharma got injured – and was replaced by Rahane as an opener. For no fault of his, he had to fight his way back into the ODI team. When he was finally fit, in his first ODI back from injury, with Rahane at no. 3, Rohit Sharma scored 264 against Sri Lanka. He never looked back. It was a crucial match for him, crucial because he had to prove that he was good enough to be included in the World Cup squad. He had missed the cut in 2011; it still haunts him.
Now, on the first day of Sangakkara’s final test match, Rohit scored 79 of perhaps the most important test runs of his career. He got out LBW in the final over of the day, and missed what could have perhaps been the defining century of his career. But that’s how it is with the talented Rohit Sharma
– every time he scores big, it’s almost always under pressure, and for a place in the side. This, after being given a long and generous rope by a management that clearly believes in him.
Once again, Rohit could be playing for a spot in the final test. But at least, he will have earned a final chance.