Rohit Sharma married Ritika Sajdeh, who he has been friends with for 6 years and got engaged to on April 28th this year, in a grand ceremony in Mumbai yesterday. Rohit would be hoping that his marriage can bring about a change in his Test career fortunes. An integral member of the Indian One-Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 International (T20I) sides, Rohit has yet to get going in the longest format of the game. Getting deployed in various batting positions, No.5, No.6 and No.3, has not helped Rohit’s cause. But what could be the reason(s) for his continued struggles in a format that every cricketer prioritises and wants to excel in?
Reason(s) for Rohit Sharma’s Test struggles
By far the main reason the Indian team management continues to back Rohit despite his perpetual failures in Test matches, is his special ability with the bat. When Rohit is on song, few batsmen can exude class and nonchalance as the Mumbai batsman. On top of that, he can score runs quickly, find the boundaries at will, and consequently, put the opposition on the back-foot. In the shorter formats of the game, Rohit has tasted success by playing to his strengths.
However, Test match cricket has not come naturally to the Mumbai batsman. He made a resounding start to his international Test career, scoring back-to-back centuries in his debut series against the West Indies. But, quite disappointingly, after garnering a mammoth 288 runs in his first couple of innings with scores of 177 and 111*, Rohit has added just 608 runs in his next 27. At times in his 16-match Test career, the Mumbai batsman has looked clueless and his dismissals have left a lot to be desired. He has been bowled on eight occasions, mostly due to him playing inside the line of the deliveries. Those dismissals have, unfortunately, not shown Rohit in great light. Words like lazy, lethargic and gutless have had to be used to describe the 28-year-old right-hander.
One of Rohit’s major weaknesses in Test cricket has been his ineptitude to keep the scoreboard ticking over. He can get stagnant and go many deliveries without collecting runs, thereby inviting pressure onto himself. In the ODIs and T20Is, he does have the luxury, as the opening batsman, to pace the game to his liking. In the shorter formats, he usually starts his innings slowly, letting Shikhar Dhawan or the batsman at the other end assume the aggressor’s role. Over the last couple of years, Rohit has also anchored India’s innings on quite a few occasions, holding one end and letting the likes of Dhawan and Virat Kohli express themselves. In the Tests, however, he has not been able to do so.
To his disadvantage, he has yet to have a settled batting position and a permanent place in the Indian Test line-up. He has been moved up and down the order by the Indian team management, who continue to trust in Rohit’s ability and hope that he would come good in Tests for India. However, in Test match cricket, I do not think Rohit can cite that as a problem. If anything, he should be thankful to the team management and especially Kohli and Ravi Shastri, for their continued support.
Again, going back to Rohit’s inability to rotate strike, he can be just too reliant on scoring runs through boundaries. Because the fielding captains set attacking fields and try to pick wickets consistently, in Test matches, finding the boundaries can be a gimme for batsmen at most stages during their innings. But in Rohit’s case, he either scores runs quickly by finding the boundaries or, predictably, just goes into a shell and forgets about collecting runs.
The more deliveries he goes without scoring runs off, the more pressure he invites onto himself. And, unlike in the ODIs, where Rohit Sharma can clear the boundary when he wants to and play the ‘release shot’ as they say, to great effect, the 28-year-old has not had a plan B when it comes to Test cricket. A boggling 458 of Rohit’s 896 Test career runs have come in boundaries: 89 fours and 17 sixes. And that is a clear indicator of how reliant he can be on finding the boundaries. And, against good bowling attacks as South Africa’s, a batsman will not have the freedom, always, to play the way he wants to.
Secondly, even when he is settled at the crease and batting well, Rohit’s body language is seldom positive. And he can be an easy target for opponents to unnerve. Generally speaking, he does not quite absorb pressure that well. And in Test cricket, every batsman ought to have the ability to handle pressure. Everyone cannot be a Virender Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist or Chris Gayle, who went out there and played Test cricket largely similar to what they did, or still do in Gayle’s case, in the shorter formats of the game. So, Rohit’s temperament has come into question on many an occasion in his short Test career so far. Can he survive crucial moments in a session when a bowler is on top and Rohit has to just resist getting out? Can he leave balls outside his off-stump and coerce the bowler at come at him? Unfortunately, Rohit has not had the answers to those crucial questions, so far. No wonder then, that he has yet to taste success in Test cricket.
Rohit’s dismissal in the first innings of the fourth Freedom Trophy Test is a classic example of the Mumbai batsman’s tendency to be impulsive. He had been at the crease only for 5 deliveries, given a reprieve on the 5th delivery and, instead of gathering himself, Rohit decided to take the bowler on in the very next delivery (his 6th and ultimate of the innings), giving a catch to mid-on. And the manner in which he got out was not unusual. He has self-sabotaged on many an occasion during his international career, but has never paid a heavy price for it. The Indian team management continues to keep the faith in Rohit. No one knows when and if the Mumbai stylist will ever come good in Test cricket.
Rohit Sharma’s god-given talent deserves to be harnessed: which means the Mumbai batsman has to find a way to be successful as a Test cricketer for India. So far, Rohit has not looked like doing it and we can safely say that his inability to rotate strike and absorb pressure has what proved to be his undoing in Tests.