“Rohit (Sharma) is a fabulous player with immense talent, but he hasn’t got a long run in Test cricket,” chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil said on 12 September after picking the squad for the Test series against New Zealand, starting in Kanpur on Thursday.
That’s not quite true, however. Since his debut in November 2013 against the West Indies, the batsman from Mumbai has played 18 Tests (just four less than his nearest rival in the middle order, Cheteshwar Pujara, in this period).
After his debut series in India when he got back-to-back hundreds, Sharma got eight innings on away tours of South Africa and New Zealand, the same as Pujara. While Sharma has one 50 from those innings, the Rajkot man scored 153 (in Johannesburg), in addition to a half-century. Pujara played all five matches on the 2013 tour of England, while Sharma played just the third Test (where he got 26 runs in two innings).
On the next tour of Australia in 2014-15, both were equally miserable, with just a 50-plus score each across six innings. Yet it was Sharma who was picked ahead of Pujara against Bangladesh (June 2015, a one-off Test) and Sri Lanka (the three-Test series in 2015). Pujara revived his Test career with a match-winning 145 at the Sinhalese Sports Club, while Sharma was guilty of squandering six innings with two 50-plus scores.
“Rohit has got enough chances. It’s always debatable when you talk about the two...,” says former chief selector K. Srikkanth.
Talking to a TV channel last week, former India captain Sourav Ganguly said: “He (Sharma) has got a fair rope, but I don’t think the selectors are going to find anything more about Rohit with the 13 Test matches we play in India. I would pick Pujara any day ahead of Rohit because he’s a better player at the Test level.”
Statistical evidence suggests that while Pujara had to wait for his chances, Sharma was always lucky. Pujara’s performance over the years, however, is difficult to ignore. He may not have played exceedingly well, but he has been as good as Sharma.
Even if Sharma had got a big score in Delhi against the visiting New Zealanders in a three-day practice match (he flopped by scoring just 18 runs), it would still have been tough to push Pujara from the Kanpur Test’s playing eleven after his double century in the Duleep Trophy final last week.
Perhaps it would only be appropriate that the talented Sharma make way for the gritty Pujara to prove himself.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.