Rohit Sharma has to be one of the most enigmatic players in the history of Indian cricket. His admirers and critics are equally divided. The admirers are those who are mesmerized by his prodigious talent, by his chiseled strokeplay which is straight out of the textbook and by his unflappable temperament that has seen him surge towards a first class average of 61.
An unbeaten triple hundred and a century in each innings of a Ranji Trophy final – a feat that has been achieved by only five others in the 80-year-old history of the national competition – mark him out a special batsman who has the ability to reach great heights even in international cricket.
His detractors feel that he has been given more than enough chances and has yet not cemented his place in the side, that he is not consistent and that he being from Mumbai has a lot to do with his continued selection.
Perhaps no other young cricketer has polarized opinion as much as Rohit. Admittedly his figures are not in keeping with his talent and the reputation he enjoys in some circles. Just two hundreds in 82 ODI innings and an aggregate of just over 2000 runs at an average of 31 are just the kind of stats to fuel a debate about whether he is good enough to be persevered with.
At the start of the second decade of the new millennium even as it was taken for granted that Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman would not last very long, the names of Rohit and Virat Kohli were being freely discussed as the leaders of the GenNext of Indian batting. There is little doubt that Kohli has made far more progress than Rohit as can be underlined by the figures and the lofty status that the former enjoys in Indian cricket.
And yet it could well have been both Rohit and Kohli adorning the Indian line-up together in many more matches than they have been teammates. Rohit first made his mark even as Kohli was leading the Indian Under-19 side to victory in the 2008 World Cup. By that time Rohit has excelled in the victorious VB Series campaign Down Under and his batting wowed even the acerbic Ian Chappell.
The former Australian captain is not given to hyperbole and for him to predict a "huge future" for Rohit underlined the impact that the batsman, then just 21, made during the tri series.
And yet a couple of years ago Chappell, who was firmly of the view that he was the best of the young Indian batsmen, was writing "It's hard to fathom that more than three years later he still hasn't played a Test and his talent is in danger of being under-utilized."
And about the same time Rohit was the subject of high praise from another former captain – Pakistan’s Rameez Raja. "Rohit Sharma is the best young batting talent in the world. Highly mismanaged by India. He’s better than (Virat) Kohli," tweeted Raja.
Looking at how Kohli has stolen a march over Rohit, it is easy to shrug off Raja gushing over the latter. But the fact remains that till about two years ago the two were talked about in the same breath. Kohli, showing more hunger for success, leapt ahead for I believe that on talent, temperament and technique there is not much to choose between them.
The difference is that while Kohli has made it big Rohit is still feeling his way around. This is a pity for it will be a sight for the gods if the two bat in tandem. They have done so for India in limited overs cricket but the occasions have been far fewer than the cricket connoisseur would have liked.
Players generally graduate from limited overs cricket to Tests but Rohit’s case is rather peculiar. One gets the feeling that his game is tailor made for the game’s traditional format. For one thing he is the latest product from the Bombay school of batting – a school that has produced the likes of Vijay Merchant, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar among others.
He has the ability to build an innings and this is borne out by his figures in first class cricket which are superior to Kohli’s. In 55 matches he averages 61.50 with 15 hundreds.
So while Rohit is certainly not out of place in the limited overs game, he appears to be heaven sent for Tests with his technical excellence, his text book driving and cutting, his chiseled strokeplay, the ideal temperament along with his natural qualities of dedication, determination and concentration.
For example however impressive the ODI records of Dravid and Laxman are, their names will indissolubly be linked first and foremost with Test cricket. Is the 25-year-old Rohit made the same way? It does appear that his destiny towards greatness lies in cricket’s traditional format and the sooner he is given the break the better. A "god given talent" as MS Dhoni described him after his timely 83 at Mohali on Wednesday deserves nothing less.
In the meantime Rohit will continue to notch up many more valuable scores in limited overs cricket before he takes the inevitable step to a permanent place in the Test side. He is not one to rest on his laurels and has an insatiable appetite for runs. But I would like to think that more than the runs it will continue to be his batting style and approach that will garner particular attention.