Right from the warm-up game at the Feroz Shah Kotla, there was an indication that Rohit Sharma might play as the sixth batsman in the Indian line-up against New Zealand at Kanpur.
The Mumbai batsman had struggled at Gros Islet during the third Test against West Indies in August. So when the side returned and reached Kanpur last week, Rohit was expected to get back in form.
Although he played the final of the Duleep Trophy and scored twin 40s, the team management insisted he batted for Mumbai against the Kiwis. Rohit had been given a long rope in the Test side and his consistent endeavour to throw away opportunities might make things difficult for him in the future.
“Rohit is a fabulous player, immense talent he has got but he hasn’t got a longer run in Test cricket. What we have seen is that Rohit is picked for one Test and is rested for the entire series. So the selection committee along with coach and captain feels whoever will be picked for the team will be given fair chances,” said chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil at the selection meeting for the series.
At Kanpur, India skipper Virat Kohli benched Amit Mishra and accommodated Rohit to go with four bowlers for the first time. India were 185/4 when Rohit walked in to bat alongside Ajinkya Rahane. The pitch had started to show signs of breaking and slight turn was on offer. Rahane was soon dismissed by Mark Craig on a delivery that spun a little, taking an inner edge to short leg. So, now Rohit was expected to steer the ship and there was no pressure on him to make quick runs either.
At Kotla last week, Rohit got to bat on the second day and threw his wicket by getting stumped to New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi. After having made 18, out of which ten came from boundaries, Rohit ran out of patience and let his ODI and T20 instinct take over. The result? Rohit sat outside the entire course of the game.
In Test cricket, one needs to have plenty of patience, a quality that is lacking in the Mumbai batsman. He might have the best of strokes, might be the most elegant-looking batsman on the crease but in the longer format of the game, the lack of patience has hurt him. A strong defence helps a batsman to buy time but Rohit’s shaky defence against spinners urges him to take a risk.
So on 18, Rohit attempted a sweep at Kanpur. Craig shouted for LBW as it looked close and the ball hit Rohit’s back leg. The umpire ruled the decision in favour of the batsman as the ball pitched half outside the leg stump. That should have been a wake-up call for Rohit and he should have looked to capitalise on the opportunity.
The new ball was about to be taken. Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner was called in the 83rd over. Despite the pitch turning, the new ball was going to hold its line for some time at least. Having seen the mid-off and mid-on inside the circle, Rohit went impatient and tried to play with the turn. Santner had pitched the ball on middle and leg and it further straightened. Rohit went for an inside-out stroke and ended up scooping a catch to Ish Sodhi at mid-on. Again, Rohit missed an opportunity after making 40 runs.
Had Rohit made a more substantial contribution, India could’ve had a much larger total for the bowlers to defend and apply pressure on the visitors.
Murali Vijay, though, supported Rohit at the presser. “That’s his area,” he said. When it comes out good, it looks good. When it doesn’t, you fall on the wrong side. We still have to back our instincts,” Vijay said.
Instinctive approach is what has been letting Rohit down. Last year, Rohit threw away his wicket at Kotla against South Africa. Offspinner Dane Piedt had both mid-off and mid-on inside the circle, but had set a fielder between long-on and midwicket (country). Rohit was done in by the ploy and went for a lofted stroke straight into the hands of the country fielder.
Rohit has been in a habit of throwing away starts and that clearly doesn’t hold him in good stead. Kohli going with four bowlers was a risk taken by him on a turner at Kanpur so that he could give Rohit another chance of resurrecting his Test career. Rohit undoubtedly is India’s best opening bet in ODIs and T20, but his average Test average of 32 reveals his weakness in adjusting to the longer format.