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Is Rohit Sharma an Automatic Pick in India’s Test Playing XI?

Rohit Sharma is back and that’s great news for Indian cricket. He wasn’t initially named in the squad for the Australian tour as he picked up a hamstring injury during the 2020 Indian T20 League. He then went on to lift the trophy for his franchise, Mumbai and that raised a few eyebrows in the cricketing circuit.

Post the tournament, Rohit came back to India, to the National Cricket Academy (Bengaluru) to prove his fitness. Now his two-week quarantine period in Australia is over and he’s available for the last two Tests in the Border-Gavaskar trophy. But the question we’ll like to answer in this blog is whether Rohit Sharma is an automatic pick in the playing XI in the Indian Test team?

 

WHERE WOULD HE BAT?

Rohit Sharma has been named as the vice-captain for the remaining two Tests and has been named in the playing XI for the third Test. The big question is what role can Rohit fulfil in this Test team? Rohit is all set to open the innings with Shubman Gill and will replace Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order as the Karnataka batsman has failed to score any valuable runs in the first two Tests. This call seems harsh from the outside. In a decade when openers have struggled massively, Mayank has been a knight in the shining armour for Team India. Mayank had a bright start to his career as a Test opener and has time and again come out on top in testing overseas conditions. His average is a shade under 48 and has already notched up three centuries in the 13 Tests he has played for India. His spot was shockingly under review and Rohit looks all set to take that up.

The other role Rohit can play is the dashing middle-order batsman in the team. One man who’s spot becomes dicey is Hanuma Vihari then. The Hyderabad batsman is young in Test cricket and has played 11 Tests so far, scoring a century in the Caribbean. His average isn’t groundbreaking but he has already played some interesting roles for the team. He opened the innings when India was short of openers in their last tour of Australia and has already played in four overseas tours – England, Australia, West Indies and New Zealand. In his 11 Tests, only one has come in home conditions and that’s a major reason why his run-scoring hasn’t been as prolific as it could have been. Dropping Vihari from the squad also seemed like a harsh call as he, like Mayank, has done nothing wrong to get the axe.

 

HOW GOOD A TEST OPENER CAN ROHIT BE?

Rohit Sharma averages 92.66 as a Test opener and has three hundreds in just five matches he has opened the innings for India in Test cricket. This is where numbers can be misleading. All his five Tests as opener have come on Indian soil and all three centuries came against South Africa where India swept the visitors away with a 3-0 win in the series. Sharma was named as the man of the series but his fellow opener Mayank Agarwal too played brilliantly and finished the series as the second-highest run-getter behind Sharma. That gives you the indication that opening the innings in those conditions wasn’t that testing, rather a great opportunity for the openers to be amongst big runs.

Rohit is yet to open an innings in overseas conditions and it’ll be harsh to form judgements on his technique without any actual evidence. In the 18 overseas Tests, Rohit has played for India it is safe to say that we haven’t seen the best of the Hitman. He is yet to score a Test century away from home and averages 26.32 with the bat. The last overseas Test was back in Australia in the Boxing Day Test back in 2018. Since then he has been unlucky with injuries during these Test series.

If we are to look at white-ball cricket where Rohit Sharma is an absolute world-beater, there’s an argument to be made that whenever the ball has swung early on, Rohit has struggled to negate that period. Limited overs cricket and Test match cricket are two completely different animals and it’ll be fascinating to see how the Hitman adapts his game against the new ball in red-ball cricket. If he gets past the first 20-30 balls in the first innings then Rohit has enough quality to score a big hundred and get his first century in overseas conditions. The biggest test will be against the swinging ball of Mitchell Starc early on, who will test both the pads as well as the outside edge of Sharma’s bat. Hindsight will be an easy place to decide whether the decision of making Rohit an automatic pick in the Test XI was the right one or not.

Read: Ajinkya Rahane’s Captain’s Knock Levels AUS vs IND Test Series

 

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