On Friday, experienced batsman Rohit Sharma was appointed as vice-captain of the Indian Test team, replacing Cheteshwar Pujara who was given the post for Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Pujara was named vice-captain for the second Test after Ajinkya Rahane took over the leadership responsibilities, with Virat Kohli heading back to India.
According to reports, Pujara’s elevation to vice-captaincy was only a stop-gap arrangement until Rohit Sharma joined the Test squad. As per a TOI report, a senior official told PTI on conditions of anonymity:
"There was never an iota of doubt about who will be India's vice-captain once Virat takes a break and Ajinkya is elevated. It was always going to be Rohit and Pujara was just a stop-gap arrangement till the former joined the squad."
According to the same official, since Rohit Sharma has been India's long-time white ball vice-captain, it was imperative that in Virat's absence he would be a part of the team's leadership group.
Undoubtedly, Rohit Sharma is worthy of the vice-captaincy in the limited-overs formats. He has a sensational record in both ODIs and T20Is to prove it. The question arises: Did the Mumbai Indians skipper deserve to be named as vice-captain of the Indian Test team? Has he earned the honor?
Rohit Sharma’s elevation: Star power over performance?
One of the basic requisites for being part of any leadership group is for the person in question to have established himself in the area of expertise. Although Rohit Sharma’s Test career looks impressive at the outset, it is no secret that he still has got plenty to prove in the longer format of the game.
While Rohit Sharma has an overall Test average of 46.54 from 32 matches, the numbers fall significantly when playing away from home — an average of 26.32 in 18 Tests. In Australia, Sharma has only managed 279 runs in five Tests at an average of 31.
Until the home series against South Africa last year, the 33-year-old wasn’t even a certainty in the Indian Test team. Although he did bat brilliantly as an opener to register scores of 176, 127 and 212 against the Proteas, and earned handsome praise for the same.
It is equally true that Rohit Sharma’s real test as a batsman was to come in challenging conditions in New Zealand and Australia. However, he missed the Test series against New Zealand due to injury, and has just joined the Indian team for two Tests against Australia.
Rohit Sharma has not played a single competitive game since the IPL 2020 final, which he featured in despite being injured. Before the entire controversy around his availability for Australia, followed by Kohli’s decision to head back to India on paternity leave, the debate about Rohit Sharma centered around whether he would even secure his Test spot as an opener in Australia.
His sudden elevation to vice-captaincy means that, without any cricketing logic, he has been considered to be an indispensable part of the Test squad.
The decision also all but confirms that Rohit Sharma will walk into the playing XI for the New Year Test. And, even if he is found rusty, it will be difficult for the management to keep him out of the next game. After all, he is the vice-captain of the Indian Test team!
Rohit Sharma’s technique against the red ball has been found wanting in the past, particularly in conditions conducive for swing. He will face a greater challenge if he opens the batting in Australia.
It's not that he cannot do well in Tests Down Under. But the fact remains that he has a poor record in Australia. Rohit Sharma still needs to stamp his authority as a Test batsman — not just in Australia, but in other top nations as well.
Rohit Sharma’s elevation, without any proper thought, is clearly a case of his star status taking precedence over proper cricketing analysis.
Why not Ravichandran Ashwin as vice-captain instead?
One can understand Pujara being relieved of the vice-captaincy responsibilities. He is his own man, and would prefer to concentrate on his batting, which hasn’t been great in the first two Tests.
At the same time, if someone had to be promoted as vice-captain in the current scenario, veteran off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin would have been a far more credible choice ahead of Rohit Sharma. Just like the latter, Ashwin too has a shrewd cricketing brain. The difference here is that, unlike Rohit Sharma, Ashwin has proved himself in the Test format beyond doubt.
And, if there were any question marks over how he would perform in Australia, Ashwin has answered the same with some stupendous bowling efforts in the first two Tests. Handing him the vice-captaincy would have been a wonderful reward for Ashwin, a deserved recognition for his consistent performances.
Former left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha recently opined that Ashwin is the ‘bowling captain’ of the team. So what stops the management from elevating him a step further? Picking Rohit Sharma over Ashwin as vice-captain only gives credence to legend Sunil Gavaskar’s claims that, in the current Indian team, there are different rules for different people.Published 02 Jan 2021, 16:46 IST