Will Rohit Sharma settle down in the opener's slot?

by Ashish Magotra  Jan 25, 2013 08:16 IST

#India vs England   #OnOurMind   #Rohit Sharma  

Plainly put, Rohit Sharma also has two personalities - one good and one evil (well, not quite like the ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ but evil in the sense it betrays expectations).

The good one does all the right things – in interviews, he speaks about the non-existence of talent and about the importance of hard work, he can play all the shots, he can play the rising ball, he has time to play shots and is better than Virat Kohli.

The bad one, in complete contrast, finds ways to do all the wrong things – in interviews, he will sound arrogant, not work on fitness, get criticised by Tendulkar for not having the commitment and won’t even command a place in the Indian team.

Rohit Sharma made 83 in the 4th ODI against England. PTI

Rohit Sharma made 83 in the 4th ODI against England. PTI

But the biggest problem for Rohit Sharma is that he has found no middle ground; no consistency; nothing that he or the team can trust. Some may say that he has simply not been allowed to – he has batted at all positions between 1 and 7 and that’s no way to blood a young man.

Virat Kohli has also batted in all positions between 1 and 7 – but of his 97 innings – 81 have come at No.3 and No.4.

In contrast, Rohit has played 87 ODIs – but the breakup is just all wrong.

At No.1: 2 innings (avg 12.00)
At No.2: 2 innings (avg 44 mostly thanks to the 83 against England at Mohali)
At No.3: 8 innings (avg 12.75)
At No.4: 26 innings (avg 31.08)
At No.5: 25 innings (avg 45.36)
At No.6: 12 innings (avg 28.57)
At No.7: 7 innings (avg 14.00)

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where Rohit is at his best so why hasn’t India used him in that manner? There is a genuine case against the team management for the manner in which they have played with his career so far. But then this is the good side.

The bad side made its presence felt last year (2012), when in 14 ODIs, he made just 168 runs at an average of 12.92. This came after a 2011, that to many should have established Rohit in the team – 16 matches, 611 runs, avg of 55.54. And that has been Rohit's curse. He’s brilliant one day, average the other day and downright pathetic on some days. You can’t quite put a finger on his pulse and that unpredictability is un-nerving for most.

During the fourth ODI against England, Rohit went past 2000 runs in ODIs. It took him around 87 ODIs. Kohli, who has played just 10 ODIs more, in the same period has 4054 runs – the second fastest after Vivian Richards to reach the landmark.

The numbers illustrate three things: Rohit has been around for a while, he is talented but he hasn’t clicked consistently enough. Now, once again, India want him in a new role. They want him to do the job that Virender Sehwag used to previously do – they want him to be the aggressor at the top of the order. Gambhir, in his current form, clearly can't do that.

He struggled initially but his first four set the tone of the innings - he had a plan laid out for him. The ball wasn't too short but it came into the body and Rohit pulled it to the mid-wicket boundary. And after that there was no looking back. He came into his own against Tredwell especially and forcefully took India towards victory with his 83.

“We all felt he is someone who can be a really good opener in the sense he cuts and pulls really well. Also with two openers you want one of them to be slightly aggressive than the other I think he accepted the challenge in the sense he also felt he got into the side because Manoj was unfit. So it was an opportunity for him. The good thing was he took it as a challenge,” Dhoni said after the fourth ODI.

But one swallow doesn’t make a spring. Opening the innings is a challenge that will force Rohit to change his game once more and will that bring out the best in him? You have to remember that the England side has a second-string attack at best – it is without James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.

However, after the fifth ODI against England, India don’t play any one-dayers till after March 27 and it will be difficult to build a consistent rhythm. Rohit isn’t part of the Test side yet, won't be playing the Ranji trophy (since it will be over) and he will have to somehow sustain his form come the ODI matches against Australia. And then, even then, he will have to contend with a fit Manoj Tiwary.

So which personality will come to the fore then... Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?