Rohit Sharma scored 78 runs at 19.50 in the ongoing series    AFP
Rohit Sharma scored 78 runs at 19.50 in the ongoing series AFP

August 10, Galle (2015). Virat Kohli was taking baby steps into captaincy. Here was his first major full series as the Test captain. A young India, post the MS Dhoni era up against Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath at their den. Ravi Shastri was the team director and two days prior to the first Test, he openly backed Rohit Sharma to play ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara (a Test specialist, in-form in county cricket).

“Rohit is a class player. It’s just a case of him smelling the coffee, spending some time in the middle and getting a start, and then we know what he can do. It could be a good position for him because he has that ability to counter attack and yet at the same time he will have to be tight. If Pujara is in the best five batsmen of the team he will play, if not he doesn’t. I am sure he will make a comeback at some point, especially if we are playing only four bowlers,” Shastri had then said.

Pujara made a comeback in the final Test, opened the innings, scored a match-defining hundred and carried his bat to help Kohli win his first shield as captain. Eight more consecutive wins followed with Pujara starring in many of them.

***

January 5, Cape Town. Virat Kohli had already tossed up a bombshell as he walked out to toss. Rohit was in the XI for the first Test ahead of the Indian vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. Till that point of time, Rohit had scored 632 overseas runs at 26.33 and in contrast Rahane had 1,817 runs at 53.44, more than the twice of the former.

Indian team management cited form as the reason. Rahane had flopped in the Sri Lanka series and had scored two noughts in the Ranji Trophy prior. During the same time, Rohit piled up runs across formats. He scored three scores in excess of fifties, including a hundred, in as many innings, against Sri Lanka in Tests. He followed the run with another double hundred in ODIs and the joint-fastest T20I hundred. Form, it was. Fair enough.

Why did India lose the Test series to South Africa?
Why did India lose the Test series to South Africa?

In the two Tests that Rohit played, he managed to reach the double digits in all the four innings but managed just 78 runs at 19.50. The tally of 78 includes a combating 47, a combat to see the day for India at Centurion, a combat to help float his sinking Test career.

It certainly was not enough as Rahane broke into the playing XI for the third Test at Johannesburg at Rohit’s expense.

Rohit’s overseas record

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
16 710 25.35 79 47.3 0 4

Rohit’s record in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
10 452 23.78 72 43.2 0 2

Rohit’s record against South Africa

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
6 149 12.41 47 40.7 0 0

Rohit’s record in South Africa

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
4 123 15.37 47 42.1 0 0

In the past five years, South Africa have been the strongest of opponents. Rohit’s numbers against them cut a sorry figure. In fact, he has even struggled against them at home.

The number of matches Rohit has played is also a fair indicator of the opportunities he got. Four more months, and he will be 31. Will he pay the desired dividends on the heavy investments? A question, the selectors and team management should ask.

Rohit has been found wanting against quality attack, especially with the balls that move in late. Despite being around for a decade if such technical changes are not addressed, it is a concern.

The phenomenal limited-overs cricketer that Rohit is, isn’t it time Kohli really adopts the horses for courses approach and restrict Rohit to coloured-clothed cricket?

As for Shastri’s analysis, Rohit’s “class” in Test cricket has been confined to the barbed wires of Indian borders.