Why Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan's exclusion from the Test side is the right decision
The Indian test team for the upcoming home series for the West Indies saw Shikar Dhawan get the axe while Rohit Sharma failed to make a comeback. Quite naturally both decisions raised eyebrows and did not please a lot of people. Legends of Indian cricket like Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh were vocal in their criticism of the selection. However, a closer look suggests, the brave call by the selectors is the right one.
Limited overs legends
The fanfare for Rohit Sharma and Dhawan is not surprising. In the 50-over-format, both are two of the world's best batsman at the moment. As an opening partnership, both have them have arguably been the best over the last few years.
In only five years of opening with each other, the pair has become the sixth most successful opening pair in history with 3881 runs at an average of 47.32. Not many would be surprised if by the end of their career, the surpass the legendary pair of Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar to first in the list.
Even individually, both have been exceptional players in the shorter formats. Since the 2013 Champions Trophy, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are the second and third highest run, scorers, respectively in international cricket. In the period, Rohit Sharma has scored 5000 runs in 100 matches at an average of 58.13 while Dhawan has racked up 4754 runs at an average of 48.51 in 105 matches.
Not have they just made runs, but they have got them at crucial moments. Shikhar Dhawan has played five multi-national tournaments for India and ended up as top scorer in each of them. Rohit Sharma's average of 56.02 as an opener is highest in history for any opener with a minimum of 30 innings. It is fair to say both of them are on course to attain legendary status in the 50 over format.
Test record leaves a lot to be desired
However, the same cannot be said in red-ball cricket. On the outset, Dhawan's Test average of 40.61 and Rohit Sharma's 39.97 is on par with the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and K.L Rahul. Therefore, the merit of the selections is questioned by a few people.
Quite vividly both Rahane and Rahul's slot remains in question and a few more poor performance could see them drop out of the squad too. Also, a deeper look into the numbers shows why the selectors simply had to drop Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
Both of India's limited-overs openers have phenomenal records in the subcontinent in the whites. In 16 matches in Asia, Dhawan has scored 1403 runs at an average of 60.01. While Rohit Sharma has played 13 test's in the continent scoring 977 runs at an average of 60.06.
However, it is outside Asia where their shortcomings become visible. In the SENA countries, both have turned out as massive disappointments for the team. In the four countries that, Dhawan has scored 774 runs at an average of 23.78 in 15 matches. Quite similarly, Rohit has scored 452 runs in 10 matches with an average of 25.80. Dhawan has just one century and two half-centuries to show for in these places while Rohit has no centuries and two half-centuries
Despite not having a lot of runs to show for, Rahul did have a century in the final test in England and one in Australia in 2014. Even Rahane despite a poor run of late scored a vital 47 in India's historic win at Johannesburg and a couple of half-centuries in England. Not to forget he was India's best player in the last overseas cycle.
It is not that both have not had enough opportunities. Dhawan has constantly got the team management's trust despite failures in the 2014 overseas cycle and the South Africa tour in January. In order to accommodate Rohit Sharma in the side, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been dropped in the past. There is no reason to doubt that either of them has not been given a fair run.
At the end of the day, the aim of Indian cricket is to win outside the subcontinent. As he has shown against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan probably Dhawan will smash a century before lunch at home. Even Rohit Sharma will rack up the runs in home conditions and at a faster rate than other middle order options. However, if they cannot do the same overseas, it does not do a lot of good for the team.
At home, India will win matches regardless. In the last 12 years, India has just lost one series at home. At the same time except for a declining West Indies, the men in blue have not won a test series outside Asia since 2007. With series losses in South Africa and England this year, the eyes of Virat Kohli' team have to be on the Australia series next month.
Time to give chances to new players
It is fair to say that the fans have seen enough to know that the duo is not the answer's to India's problem overseas. The lack of runs in those conditions are there for everyone to see but their technique has hardly looked convincing. Rohit Sharma has largely struggled to deal with lateral movement and Dhawan has failed to adapt his game to swing and bounce.
Instead of going back to players who have failed, India will benefit from looking at new players. As we have seen in the case of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina in the past picking players repeatedly on limited overs form hardly works. India risks losing more matches and time in the process of persisting too much with a player.
If there is an exclusion that deserves the criticism it is that of Karun Nair. The fact that an uncapped player who was called up mid-series got a game before him raises serious questions. Nair's exclusion from the squad without getting a chance to prove himself does not send the right message to anyone.
On the other hand, Hanuma Vihari, Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal's selection are worthy of appreciation. It is heartening to see first-class runs be rewarded with a national call-up. A test spot should go only to players who have proven their credentials in red-ball cricket.
Giving players their due for hard work in the whites is also is the best thing a country can do for the health of first class and test cricket.
Ultimately, it is important for people to differentiate between the three formats. In limited over's cricket, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are pillars of the team. When the world cup comes around next summer, a lot of the nation's hopes will revolve around both of them.
However, if India wishes to triumph in overseas Test series, they have to look beyond them.