It all began with Sourav Ganguly suggesting that Rohit Sharma could be tried as an opener after KL Rahul failed to give a good account of himself in the last few Tests India had played, latest being the ones against the West Indies.
Then someone –- probably from the media – most likely for amusement purposes suggested that India might want to utilise Rohit the same way they did great opener Virender Sehwag in the upcoming Test series against South Africa.
That got the speculation machinery running wild with former cricketers largely supporting Rohit to be tried as an opener. Though most of them refrained from the Sehwag reference, wisely so.
There are fundamental problems to the suggestion. Firstly, it is belittling the great genius that Sehwag was with the bat. Many consider Rohit a special talent, which may not be entirely wrong, but when one considers stats or even style of play there appears a big gulf in the statuses of the two players. Rohit may be special but he is not special enough, because if that were the case we wouldn’t have been entertaining the preposterous suggestion concerning a 32-year-old with questionable batting technique and an unconvincing record in Tests.
Test pitches are different from ODI and T20I ones — in the main. We all know what happened in the all-important World Cup semis against New Zealand recently. Rohit, who had made five tons in the tournament prior to that game, disappeared like a ghost the moment the ball started doing a little — and in Tests the ball does one thing or another more often than not.
By the time Sehwag had played 27 Tests -- the same number of Tests Rohit has featured in so far -- he had scored six centuries, out of which four were in difficult places like South Africa, England, Australia and Pakistan, including a triple Test ton. He played in an era where millions of people with prejudices of a new lover didn’t decide whether someone was a great player on Twitter and other social media platforms. In those days, experts with plenty of credibility and stats decided that.
Rohit, with no doubt legendary status in white-ball cricket, has been a first-rate struggler in red-ball cricket ever since scoring tons in his first two Test innings in 2013 on home soil against the West Indies. His third ton which came much later also came against a very ordinary Sri Lankan bowling attack at home. At a time when world cricket has seen a decline in bowling standards in a big way, Rohit has not been able to secure a place for himself in the Test XI. So much for his being special.
The problem for Rohit in Tests has been his inability to decide what ball to score off and which one to leave. Heavyfooted-ness at the crease is another problem. Sehwag was heavy-footed too but he picked the bad balls to play wisely and let go the good ones. And then his ability to cut a delivery from good length to great effect particularly past point was an exceptional gift that made him one of the greatest of all-time.
One could argue that even Sehwag didn’t have a great defence. Here is what the legendary Sunil Gavaskar said recently on that matter. Plenty of food for thought there for Rohit for sure.
"When we talk about Rohit Sharma, he doesn't have the water tight defence like Virender Sehwag. But he perhaps has more shots than Sehwag. Sehwag would not hit the ball so much on the on-side. Rohit can use the pull and hook very well. So Rohit does have more attacking shots. If he can tighten up his defence against the good balls, he can also be successful like Sehwag in Test cricket,” Gavaskar said.
Trying Rohit as an opener in Tests was never an issue and he must be tried in light of no credible options as of now but the Sehwag reference is just unnecessary and may put that bit of pressure on him. That’s the last thing India and fans would want. Rohit didn’t bring Sehwag into these discussions, someone else did but he may end up paying the price in case he fails.
For now Rohit should not think too much. First he needs to score consistently and regularly feature in Test matches. Scoring big overseas is another box he needs to tick at some point. If he can fulfill these two conditions with a strike rate of 60 - much less than that of Viru (82.23) – maybe we can re-open the Sehwag reference.