Editor's note: Rohit Sharma was selected over Hanuma Vihari in the Adelaide Test but the Mumbai batsman didn't make the most of the opportunity returning with scores of 37 and 1. After getting off to a good start in the first innings, he threw it away with a reckless shot. As the debate over Rohit's place in the Test side rages on, we take a look at whether he really deserves to be retained for the Perth Test or not. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
The calls for Rohit Sharma’s head are growing shriller each day. And, expectedly so, after he gave fans of Indian cricket more grief than joy, more despair than elation, during the team’s 31-run victory over Australia in the first Test in Adelaide. Yet, the tour selectors must strongly resist the temptation of joining those baying for his blood.
It is imperative that they continue to back their first-choice personnel rather than change their opinion of Rohit after one game. Of course, young Hanuma Vihari showed on debut that he has the temperament too for big battles. But having left him out of the XI in the first Test, the team management should empower the batsmen who were part of the Adelaide win.
There have been suggestions that left-arm spin bowling all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja be included in Perth primarily to complement the bowling unit but that move will mean that India junks the six specialist batsmen philosophy after just the first Test. The Perth pitch can be expected to help the fast bowlers a bit more and it may not make sense to include a second spinner on that track.
More than anything else, there is a compelling reason for the team management to continue investing in Rohit Sharma in the crucial No 6 slot. And it has to got to do with his batting itself. One factor that will tilt the scales his way is his ability to play the horizontal bat strokes on either side of the pitch with a great degree of confidence.
The cut and the pull are an important part of a batsman’s armoury on tracks where the ball bounces a bit more than in other parts of the world. Rohit Sharma has the technique and the temperament for that. He just needs to blend them together for longer spells than he managed in the Adelaide Test. And that is an area where a quiet word from coach Ravi Shastri can make a difference.
He appeared to be in good touch during India’s first innings when he counter-attacked to haul India out of trouble along with the rock-solid Cheteshwar Pujara. Until of course he threw his wicket away to off-spinner Nathan Lyon with shot selection that raised questions yet again. And, he fell to a combination of smart bowling and a great catch in the second venture.
There is no doubt that teams have penalised cricketers for poor shot selection and kept them out of their playing XI in the past. But the question is: should Rohit Sharma be isolated for that dismissal when many an Indian batsman committed a similar crime on the opening day of the series? To be sure, there are more cricketing reasons from him to be retained in the XI.
Rohit Sharma must be given the chance to ride his touch and stretch it to substantial form. His presence in the later order batting can make a big difference. His experience at the international level will come in handy in dealing with the Australian attack. All Shastri will need to do is remind the Mumbai batsman that he has scored three ODI centuries against the home team in Australia.
Besides, Australia will consider him a danger man at No 6, a batsman who can turn a Test on its head with his ability to unleash calculated aggression. Truth to tell, Rohit Sharma is very capable of playing such an impactful knock. It is crucial that Australia’s set of bowlers continue to feel challenged by India’s batting talent even after they have claimed four wickets.
Rohit may just need to be told that the team expects him to exercise greater caution in making decisions and executing strokes. He owes it to himself and his team that he enjoys the task of batting and that he radiates that joy to those watching him at the batting crease. He can ensure that he gives his team-mates and fans alike no reason to increase the burrows on their foreheads.
On the contrary, he can do enough for his own Test batting average to slip past the 40 mark. The 31-year-old will be aware that he will not get too many more opportunities to justify the universal recognition of his potential to be a wonderful Test batsman.
He will know that failure can set him, like any other batsman, back by a couple of seasons. It is therefore important that he shows character and makes his presence felt each time he walks out to bat in whites in the series. There is no doubt that he is capable of doing this and more. His ability to provide a rapier thrust at a crucial stage in the Indian innings must be banked upon.
Those who have seen his talent from close quarters know that, more often than not, he has the time to play his shots. It is the hallmark of a batsman. On a track that is expected to be a bit faster and bouncier, it is this quality that should make the tour selectors retain their faith in one of the most exciting stroke-players in the Indian squad.