Rohit Sharma: Talent finally meets temperament

Rohit Sharma became the 14th Indian cricketer to score a century on debut in Test cricket, during the first Test against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens © IANS

By Karthik Parimal

When Rohit Sharma arrived in Indian colours six years ago, he was categorised in a league higher than the rest, this despite the limited number of limited-over games he’d been a part of. It was evident, to laymen and pundits alike, that he was a cut above, proof of which often oozed from his mellifluous drives; or his suave pull over square-leg. Although loosely used in most cases, the word talent was synonymous with Rohit. It was why the crème de la crème of Indian cricket stuck with him during a prolonged turbulent phase, notwithstanding the raucous outcry, albeit understandable, from certain sects of the fraternity and media.

It was why Rohit was given a rope longer than the rest. Duncan Fletcher, just days after appointment as coach of the national side, expressed his desire to specifically see Rohit don the Test outfit ahead of other noteworthy contenders. His team-mates testified that he was, by far, the best batsman during practice sessions. Mahendra Singh Dhoni seldom refrained from backing him to the hilt whenever his presence in the camp had been questioned during press-conferences. For all the faith vested in him, Rohit rarely brought to the international circuit the prowess that saw him thrive in the domestic arena. If he was relegated, he would plunder runs and make a return, only to fail, yet again. It was a baffling, disheartening circle.

There was no doubting Rohit’s skill, but his temperament — a trait which, if missing, could neutralise talent — was an unknown entity. Like Rahul Dravid subtly states, talent cannot be judged by a batsman’s ability to strike a cricket ball alone. It comprises of various factors — like determination, courage, discipline and temperament — which makes it a whole. It’s perhaps because Rohit lacked one or more of these qualities during the first few years of his international cricket that one felt he’d go the Graeme Hick way.

But was it fair to deny Rohit a berth in the Test team based on his performances in One-Day Internationals? He was first chosen for the tour of Sri Lanka in 2008, but wasn’t picked in the playing eleven; understandable since he was a colt at the time. The next call came during the Nagpur Test against South Africa in February 2010, as a stand-by for VVS Laxman. This time he was a certainty, but freakishly, he sprained his ankle while playing football on the morning of the match. In the November of 2011, he was touted to replace Yuvraj Singh for the series against West Indies, but was overlooked again. Agreed, his performance in limited-overs games were insipid, but was it justified to ignore a domestic average of over 60 during that phase, and grant opportunities which were so few and far between?

The answer to that lies in the affirmative. Most players continue to wait on the fringes, and would trade a limb for one shot in either of the formats. Rohit, on the other hand, has had over a 100 ODI and 36 Twenty20 games to prove his worth. The Test squad, since the last few years, has been brimming with first-rate players, and Rohit was given ample chances to be a part of it. That he failed to do so was solely his fault (and not because some other player had been blocking his spot, as some opine on social media). Yes, he was judged based on his performances in overs-limit matches, and was left out of the Test team owing to it, but one cannot find fault with the selectors for the yardstick they used to measure him. ODIs are a platform players often use to break into the Test side. Although statistics in First-Class cricket are an apt tool to check if one is sturdy enough for Tests, it need not always be that straightforward.

It was a blessing that Rohit was persisted with despite his lean trot, although it must be noted that he’s fared better than the other contenders for the spot during recent times, too. His move to the top of the order in ODIs has instilled a sense of responsibility, one that has clearly augured well for him and the side. Earlier, he seemed unsure and found umpteen ways to get out.  Often playing away from the body, he’d drag the ball back onto the stumps, or edge one to the wicketkeeper — a mode of dismissal that at one point had become a norm. Clearly, he was flustered.

Since his promotion, however, the callow approach has taken a backseat. He bides his time, refrains from thwacking every ball hurled his way, has shown respect to the bowler and dominates once set. As an opener, Rohit has played 25 ODIs (22 in 2013 alone) and has averaged 52. He turned a corner during the recently concluded series against Australia, smashing an unbeaten 141 and 209, which is a testament to his growing maturity.

Nevertheless, to become the 14th Indian to score a Test century on debut will, no doubt, be his most revered moment. This form of the game is every cricketer’s Holy Grail, and the circumstances under which it was etched — walking in to bat at the fall of Sachin Tendulkar’s scalp, with India teetering at five wickets down for less than hundred on a two-faced surface — speaks volumes of his improving temperament. Also, from mercilessly smacking the bowlers a few nights ago to summoning restraint against a lesser-quality attack, owing to the circumstances, is commendable.

It’s perhaps appropriate that Rohit received his Test cap from Sachin Tendulkar himself, for he’s most likely to take over the No. 4 spot from the maestro. If this temperament is sustained, there is no reason why he cannot emulate the latter’s longevity, too. He has indeed arrived on the big stage, and the path he takes from here depends on his willow alone.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)