After India beat the West Indies in the third Test on Saturday, skipper Virat Kohli, in his post-match chat, refused to beat around the bush. If he had said it any clearer, it would have been something to the effect of, “If Test cricket becomes a one batsman sport then Rohit Sharma would be that batsman because he deserves to be given more chances and to hell with everyone else, thank you”.
What seemed somewhat covert is now written in stone: Rohit Sharma is now a Test mainstay even before he is a Test mainstay. Sharma's being given every chance to succeed, albeit at the cost of another player who has already come good, is not something entirely new to Indian cricket.
Well before Sharma started to flirt with the longer format, Suresh Raina and Yuvaj Singh were given the nudge. Followed by yet another nudge. And another. And another. It just didn’t work out.
Singh made his Test debut almost 13 years ago. From 2003 right up to 2012, he played Test cricket every year – adding up to 40 chances. In his second Test, Yuvraj scored his first fifty; in his third, his first century. He ended up with three tons, eleven fifties and a career average of 33.92. All his hundreds were scored in the subcontinent against Pakistan. That’s how distant Yuvi’s Test successes are. He made his Test debut three years after he started playing One-Day Internationals for India.
Raina played his first Test five years after he made his ODI debut for India. Between 2010 and 2015 – still the Dhoni years – he wangled 18 Tests. Creditable, as, in spite of N Srinivasan at the helm of world cricket, bowlers were allowed to bowl bouncers at this Chennai Super Kings' star.
Raina made a hundred on debut and a half-century in his next Test. He did not add to the hundreds, but clocked three ducks in his last three Test innings. And five in his last seven. By the time he signed off in 2015, his Test career evoked evil cackles, spawning numerous "pull" jokes. Come the Indian Premier League every year, we were reminded he was the tournament’s top scorer and had never missed a match. Then, he got married.
A gifted player
Sharma made his Test debut in 2013, almost six years after he played his first ODI. Naturally, you know of his twin hundreds against the West Indies Invitation XI. They are part of lore. Since then, Sharma has been fortunate to play a Test every year, adding up to 17 across four years. Since his Test debut in India, he has played Tests in South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia, Sri Lanka, India again, and now in the West Indies.
His Test average is more than Raina’s 26.48, but at 32.62, it’s a shade lower than Singh’s 33.92. His batting strike rate of 52.24 is less than Raina’s 53.14 and Yuvraj’s 57.97. With two tons, he has one more than Raina, one less than Singh. The Test careers of Raina and Singh are history. Neither has been picked for the Twenty20 Internationals against the West Indies in Florida later this month.
Sharma will almost certainly play in the fourth Test, bat at five, and open India’s T20 innings against West Indies. Singh played during the Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, and VVS Laxman years – to become a Test regular, he had to outperform them. For Raina, to be a Test mainstay, he had to battle his short-ball demons.
For Sharma, neither challenge exists. If anything, the entitlement and long rope that he’s been handed could eat at him. There’s a long home season calling, and it’s been served to Sharma by none other than his captain. Some players sure are gifted.