The one thing Rohit Sharma had going for him in this series no longer applies. Form, was the magic word to justify Sharma’s inclusion in the playing XI for the first two Tests against South Africa. But after scores of 11, 10, 10 in his last three innings, form, often described as a fickle mistress, can no longer be said to be on his side.
Earlier, in Tests at home, against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, Sharma looked most impressive. His last five Test innings scores before the South African tour were 82, 51* 102*, 65 and 50*. These convinced skipper Virat Kohli to rightly back the Mumbai batsman.
But that's when the script went wrong. Even so, the two poor scores of the first Test could have been written off as one more batsman succumbing to the vagaries of a low-scoring pitch. However, the manner of dismissal at Centurion dashed any hope that Sharma could learn a trick or two to survive at the highest level.
If Sharma is the sort who watches tapes of previous dismissals, he would do well to look at the one effected by Pakistan's Mohammed Amir in the ICC Champions Trophy final played in England seven months ago. Then too he was in red hot form. But in a matter of three deliveries Amir cleaned him up.
Much like the dismissal at Centurion he had taken a half step forward and was trapped in front by a ball that swung into him. The fact that he is being suckered by a similar delivery time and again means that remedial measures are beyond Sharma's grasp.
He also seems to have issues is with the short-pitched delivery. When a bowler of express pace or someone on a fast bouncy track gets it to Sharma's head-height, he is caught in a tangle. He doesn’t weave out of the way or duck with conviction. Nor does he hook well. He just hops on to one foot and tries to waft the ball without really hitting it. On small Indian outfields the ball is sometimes thus helped along over the ropes. But on bigger grounds, or when the ball comes too quickly at him he ends up looking silly with that nothing shot. In the first Test he was dragged into that manoeuvre by Kasigo Rabada but Keshav Maharaj dropped a sitter at square leg.
Sharma is so wary of that short-pitched delivery that he hangs back on the crease and is not committed on to the front foot for a delivery that is pitched up and swinging into him. On slower pitches or against medium pacers he gets away by bringing his bat into play in time. But against the Amirs and Rabadas, he is a sitting duck.
Sharma must surely have had plenty of expert advice. But the fact that he has not sorted this out after so long in international cricket leaves little possibility of a lengthy career, at least in Test cricket.
There is no doubt that Sharma is a brilliant timer of the ball and was one of the brightest prospects a few years ago. But while he has done justice to his ability in ODIs and T20Is, his Test record is anything but impressive, especially outside Asia.
In 21 innings outside the sub-continent he has just two scores above fifty — a 75 against New Zealand in Auckland in 2014, and a 53 versus Australia in Sydney in 2015. The rest of the time his Test career has been bleak, as an average of 39.8 in 25 Tests reveals. Two of his three Test centuries came in successive innings against West Indies at the start of his career in 2013, with the third coming against Sri Lanka in November 2017.
Unfortunately for Sharma, it is obvious that even in the middle-order, against fast bowlers who can reverse swing the ball, he is not entirely at home. That being the case, the time to look beyond him is now. There are other big overseas series, to England, New Zealand and Australia in the coming months and the 30-year-old Sharma’s odd big innings should not blind the selectors to the fact that while he is a surety for limited-overs cricket, he is simply not a long-term prospect for Tests.
Indeed it would be better to invest time and effort in young Karun Nair, the Test triple centurion. Another worth investing on is Mumbai’s teenage opening batsman Prithvi Shaw who many believe has the potential to become the next big thing in Indian cricket.
Rohit Sharma has had his fair run and at least in Test cricket, he has not been impressive. The time is ripe to look ahead and induct young talent and serve Indian cricket into the next decade.
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