Rohit Sharma: Getting the blues in whites!

With the phenomenal ability he possesses, the heart wants Rohit Sharma to fire even in Test cricket. But when it comes to the head, one is almost convinced that Sharma’s days in India whites are all but numbered. Hope he proves us wrong!

Rohit Sharma... an enigma.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

In his first three innings in the New Year, Rohit Sharma, donning the India Blues in ODIs, has tallied 301 runs. That’s just 25 runs less than what he managed to achieve in white flannels in 13 innings all through 2015.

Being the enigma that he has been ever since making his first-class debut almost a decade ago — you read it right, almost a decade — more than adoring his successive centuries Down Under, one cannot help but wonder if Sharma is on the verge of being stamped only as a limited overs batsman.

The numbers hint towards an affirmative answer. If one were given an option to label the Borivali bomber based on his performance on the field, one would go with a flat-track bully rather than a limited overs specialist.

In no way does one mean to demean the stylish batsman, who along with his namesake pacer has been the most backed player in the India dressing room over the last decade. In fact, if Sharma has to continue to flourish at the top of the order in Twenty20s and ODIs, the sooner he accepts the reality, the better it would be for his career.

A closer look at Sharma’s career reveals that 2013 was the breakthrough year for him. He was promoted to the top of the order for the last two ODIs of yet another insignificant bilateral series at home, against England in January 2013, and he seized the opportunity, scoring 83 off 93 balls in his first innings in Mohali.

Since then, he has shattered all sorts of records at the top. Eight centuries, including two doubles; a 50-plus average, only the second player to do so as an opener over 50-plus innings. More importantly, more often than not, whenever he has got his eye in, Rohit has dug in deep, building a long innings with the precision of a master and made the bowlers pay more and more as the innings progressed.

In fact, had it not been for his success in ODIs, he wouldn’t have been able to earn the Test cap towards the end of 2013. Let’s stick to ODIs for now, though.

Sharma’s promotion as opener has been termed by aficionados and connoisseurs as the umpteenth “tactical masterstroke” by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. However, one feels the move was more out of desperation than by choice.

For more than five years, irrespective of the captain of the team, Sharma had tasted moderate success while batting at various positions in the middle order. Still, with the phenomenal talent he possesses with the bat, especially the time he gets before hitting the white ball, Dhoni was just not willing to drop him from the eleven. The only option that was left for him was to try Sharma out at the top.

Mind you, this wasn’t the first time Dhoni was trying such an experiment. In the three ODIs in South Africa early in 2011, Dhoni had elevated Sharma as opener, but the batsman had faltered miserably, yielding just 29 runs off 59 balls.

But playing at home in 2013 worked wonders for Sharma and ever since Mohali, he hasn’t looked back.

So staggering has Sharma’s performance been on home soil that it has boosted his career average, hovering in the late 20s and early 30s for the first five years, into the 40s in the last three years.

What stamped Sharma’s authority as an ODI opener was the finesse with which he constructed successive hundreds in Perth and Brisbane recently. However, one cannot overlook the fact that both the strips were among the flattest in Australia for a long time. The even bounce suited Sharma and the lack of movement off the pitch worked even better for him.

Even since his dream run at the top began in 2013, Sharma has not been able to translate the same form in conditions where the ball has either moved in the air or has stopped before coming on to the bat. That he has been able to cross the 60s only once in countries other than India and Australia speaks volumes about his problems in challenging conditions.

When it comes to Test matches, however, a batsman has to deal with more than the conditions. The format tests his technique, temperament and tolerance. If 2015 is a testimony, then Sharma has definitely been found wanting on all three counts.

To begin with, the change of guard at the helm of affairs in the Tests didn’t affect Sharma’s place in the side. In fact, Virat Kohli, the new Test captain, continued to let Sharma bat at No. 3 for the first half of the year. However, Sharma couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity, at times exposing his frailties in technique (read playing away from the body) while succumbing to a rush of blood on other occasions.

This resulted in him losing his place after the second Test against South Africa at home in December.

If Sharma continues to plunder runs in the limited overs arena over the next couple of months, one won’t be surprised if he is recalled into the side for the long Test season post-IPL.

With the phenomenal ability he possesses, the heart wants him to fire even in Test cricket. But when it comes to the head, one is almost convinced that Sharma’s days in India whites are all but numbered. Hope he proves us wrong!