Rohit Sharma: Lucky Number 87?
Before Mohali, Rohit Sharma had opened an ODI innings for India on three occasions. The matches were played against South Africa in their den, just ahead of the 2011 ODI World Cup. His scores were 23, 1 and 5. He missed out on selection for the big tournament, as also needless to say that you probably don't remember these three innings, and for good reason.
Here's another statistic that boggles the mind. Before the fourth ODI versus England at Mohali, Rohit Sharma had played 86 one-day internationals. They span across nearly six years, beginning with his debut against Ireland in June of 2007. Leave aside those three innings prior to the World Cup, how many of his 86 matches come to mind in a flash?
The CB Series triumph is an instant recollection. Along with Sachin Tendulkar, he helped India to a superlative win Down Under, raising vision of a seamless succession. It didn't pan out so because the life of an Indian cricket fan isn't meant to be easy. Then, Rohit's back-to-back hundreds in an obscure tri-series in Zimbabwe are a case in point. Those centuries came more than two years after his Aussie sojourn, during which he had one score above fifty. There was an odd consistent run against West Indies in the winter of 2011, which won him a spot on the Test flight to Australia. It eventually came to nought, by chance or luck, the two riders attached to his fate as always.
It can be argued that he is still in a very young phase of his career. Cynics will point out that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni - India's impact players in ODIs in the last two decades put together - took their own time settling down. Well, in a sense, that is true. Tendulkar and Ganguly, mighty explosive wherever they batted, only really shone once they were elevated to the opening spot. Dravid wasn't even considered an ODI player for long. Sehwag and Dhoni had the cushion of a great batting line-up hedging their run-ins.
But, herein, is the catch. Times have changed. With bulging calendars, youngsters are hardly inexperienced anymore. Furthermore, the call of 'need' is an important one to assess temperament. Indian cricket is in transition and five years is a long enough time to make a mark. There can be no excuse as to why he did not play in the 2011 World Cup when Virat Kohli - who made his ODI debut a full year later - did. There, in all earnest, is no explanation for why Rohit isn't a permanent fixture of the ODI side even now, almost two years after that tournament. There is no fathomable reason as to why he hasn't used so many opportunities to step up and shoot himself into the Test orbit either. Except one, of course!
Rohit Sharma has been wasteful of his opportunities, and it doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure that out. Even so, it does take one to wonder out aloud as to how he came ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara to open the innings at Mohali. On the back of his scintillating form - and strike-rate - in Ranji Trophy, and the small matter of Virender Sehwag being dumped out, it was almost expected that Pujara will find his place. That four matches have gone past without him being sighted at the crease has left the madly-in-love-with-him fans a tad disappointed.
By all calculations Ajinkya Rahane was ahead of Pujara to get a first shot at Sehwag's vacant place. And it can be argued to death that he did not deserve to be dropped from the Mohali ODI so unceremoniously. He did get a start in Rajkot (just to throw it away disappointingly) but his feet just didn't move in the next two matches. It happens when you expect a lot out of yourself, along with heaping pressure from all external quarters. That the general refrain 'he must be given a long run' quickly changed to 'he doesn't look to be a class-player' in just three matches is a poignant indicator of fickle times.
It was a fifty-fifty call. If you were Indian captain, probably Rahane would have been opening for India still. Dhoni thinks differently. And he is entitled to his opinion, like everyone else, perhaps more so for it is the one that counts in the end. The underlying point is that a less-talked-about batsman like Rahane (or Manoj Tiwary) always has a short rope attached to his credentials. His case isn't a one-off in history. Meanwhile big words like 'talent' and 'potential' that eventually ring out hollow over a long span of time, inexplicably find resonance again and again.
Life isn't fair though, and Rahane probably knows that. So does Pujara, most likely. Tiwary definitely does. It isn't to bring down Rohit at all. For he played a good innings under tremendous pressure, never mind that tough chance put down by Kevin Pietersen which otherwise could have made this look another failed attempt. As afore-mentioned, by chance or luck, Rohit survived to make it work this one time.
Let us hope, for his sake, that Rohit keeps at it in the near future. That 87 is a lucky enough number for Indian cricket. Because, 86 is a highly distressing number of matches to have gone waste!