With the young turks K L Rahul and Karun Nair notching up big hundreds, the buzzing around the town is whether the road is all but end for Rohit Sharma. To me, however, this question is trivial and the murmur not more than a momentary knee-jerk reaction.
Rohit Sharma was going great at the start of the autumn when the New Zealand team toured India in September-October. In the Test whitewash of the Kiwis, the Mumbaikar made amends to his forgettable tour to the Caribbeans with three fifties in as many matches – including a crucial 82 at his favourite Eden Gardens that bailed out the team from a mid-match crisis. The Mumbai Indians captain however suffered from his “chronic disease of inconsistency” with a string of scores in the “teens” before he amalgamated a valuable 70 in the decider at Visakhapatnam – the very match where he suffered a thigh injury that ruled him out for the entire England series.
As things stand, the “Hitman” might not return to the national side till he fully recovers from the surgery that he underwent early November with experts ruling him out till the start of the Australian tour to India in March. In between that unfortunate injury and the end of the English tour, India has found a new, young middle-order for its regular XI in whites. Nair – who plays for Rohit’s neighbouring state Karnataka in the domestics – scored a triple hundred in only the third innings of his Test career – that belittled even the likes of so-called “cricketers-out-of-womb” Len Hutton and Don Bradman. With the new no. 5 becoming the second Indian ever to score a triple ton after Virender Sehwag, many pundits are pitting him against the man who too has some similar shares in the limited overs.
Rohit Sharma – who scored a couple of double-centuries in the ODIs in back-to-back seasons – has not scored a Test hundred since he slammed two in his debut series against the West Indies. After two centuries in his first two Test innings, the talented batsman could just hit four fifties in the next two and a half years in the multi-day cricket before he notched up three consecutive against New Zealand. Inconsistency has been something that has always undermined the great knocks of the Mumbai scion – with his sceptics often terming his magnificent hundreds “blue moon events”.
Coming straight to the question which the title goes asking for, it’s true Karun Nair, for the time being, has made his place safe in the regular XI for the next five Tests and it would be unjust to him if he gets dropped in the rest of the home season – unless of course he isn’t blighted by an unexpected health concern. In the mean time, in sync with the present system, any player must have to prove his fitness in the domestic arena before making a comeback in the side – and it would be the first priority for Rohit Sharma after he is declared match fit. With Rohit Sharma, the same applies for the regular vice-captain or the actual no. 5 Ajinkya Rahane who too has been nursing a finger injury and hence was left out of the team for the last two Tests.
The challenge of a batsman in the Indian team has aggravated a lot in present because of many reasons which are intricately dependant on one another. First, all our batters score a bagful of runs in one game or the other that makes the management difficult to drop one for the other because of little difference between as far as their recent track records are concerned. Second, with India going in with five specialist bowlers with a regular keeper in place, there is space for just five batsmen in the playing squad – spiking up the rat race further. Third, with Ravichandran Ashwin now a genuine all-rounder, we too have Ravindra Jadeja (with a couple of triple tons in the domestics) along with a new colt Jayant Yadav scoring a ton in his very first series, these spin trio have to some extent made up the need for an extra batsman or well two in the side.
With K L Rahul well placed to partner Murali Vijay, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, it could quite be a three-way tussle between Rahane, Rohit and Nair for the fifth spot if Kohli-Kumble duo persists with their five-bowler option. And coming to the cause of the three, Rahane is the fittest candidate for he is the most tested of the lot and has made runs in all conditions. As Rohit and Nair are concerned, consistency would be the key. Prior to the New Zealand series, the prolific Indian opener in the limited overs has had strings of poor scores that have always put his place under the scanner. To make a comeback to the Test team, the right-hander must score big and score those regularly as well. And coming to Nair, as Kohli has called the rout of England as just the beginning of something much bigger to come, it would mean that his captain is not going to settle for any score other than the best. It also clearly means that the Karnataka player who is basking in the glory of his triple hundred at present must not extend his honeymoon period after action resumes and keep in mind firmly that a few barren knocks from his bat might send him back to oblivion.
So my final opinion is that for a batsman with the calibre of Rohit Sharma, there is no need to panic as the seasoned campaigner is known for making big comebacks as he did a couple of seasons back in the ODIs. With India slated to play a lot of overseas cricket post-April, the selectors might prefer the experiences of the Sharmas and the Rahanes over the sensations of the Nairs. International cricket is always a state of dynamics with little poor patches or injuries making or breaking careers and as such I hardly feel that we have seen the last of Rohit Sharma in the whites. It is going to be an interesting duel not only for the no. 5 but the whole Indian batting line up where nobody is granted except for Kohli and to some extent Pujara. Who knows, a couple of bad outings from Vijay might get a call-up for Rohit as the opener?
Whatever be the scenario, it is great for the team that could boast of a reserve bench equally as good as the playing XI.