Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma starred in India’s strong batting performance in Australia but only one of that pair has conquered all three formats.
Kohli has gone from strength to strength in all forms of the game; his Test performances are littered with overseas centuries and the only glaring exception is England. Two solid innings on the bouncy WACA pitch in 2012, followed by a century in Adelaide seemed to provide the self belief he required to excel at the Test level.
Similarly, Rohit made a big impression in Australia as a young batsman in the 2007-08 ODI series. He followed a substantial innings in Canberra with an impressive knock to help India win the first final at the SCG. He was involved in a match-turning partnership with Sachin Tendulkar at the SCG and he was by no means overshadowed by the Little Master.
I felt those innings would be the making of Rohit --- he handled the extra bounce of Australian pitches with ease --- but success didn’t follow automatically. A couple of years later at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, he countered Australia’s fast short-pitched attack, to be not only the last man standing but also the only India batsman to enhance his reputation. Finally, this appeared to be the performance which would launch Rohit’s international career but sadly it was another false dawn.
It wasn’t until early 2013 when he was elevated to the top of the ODI batting order that his career really took off. The runs flowed from his bat in a stream of exquisite drives and powerful pull shots and he was rewarded with a Test spot. He responded with back-to-back centuries against the West Indies and at last it appeared the vast promise he’d shown in 2008 was about to be fulfilled.
However, it hasn’t shown at the Test level, as despite numerous heroics in short-form cricket, including a gargantuan 264 and another ODI double century, he’s stumbled from one disappointment to another in the longest form of the game.
Meanwhile, Kohli’s batting has surged in all forms and he’s now an Indian idol, as well as captain of the Test side. He can be passionate and fiery on the field but most of the time when he’s batting his stroke-play is controlled and calculated.
The tougher the task, the more he’s inspired. I haven’t seen better batting in the fourth innings than his enterprising century at the Adelaide Oval, where he narrowly missed guiding India to an incredible victory.
Kohli slipped easily into the large shoes of Sachin Tendulkar at No 4 by not only understanding his responsibilities but also his style of play. Rohit, on the other hand, has struggled to find a permanent spot in the Test line-up and seems no closer to unearthing a suitable style to fit the format.
There are a number of things holding Rohit back as a Test batsman. He’s ideally suited to the No 3 spot but despite chances, hasn’t made it his own. However, his biggest failing is not coming to grips with a batting rhythm that suits him at the Test level.
I wonder if one of his problems isn’t similar to what seemed to inflict Gordon Greenidge. The West Indies opener was a fine player but like a startled tortoise he’d retreat into his shell when Viv Richards joined him at the crease. At times, in Test cricket Rohit seems overawed by Kohli and his reputation, and struggles to play in his shadow.
This is another reason, apart from his skill, why No 3 would be the ideal spot for Rohit. Coming to the crease prior to Kohli would provide him with a chance to become established before the arrival of the ‘big gun’.
It’ll be a pity if Rohit doesn’t come to terms with Test batting, not just for his own sake but also for the fans. In full cry, the Rohit-Kohli combination at three and four would be hard to contain.