Why Rohit Sharma's absence is a blessing in disguise for the Indian Test team
When England take on India at Rajkot on November 9, one prominent name from each team will be missing - James Anderson and Rohit Sharma. Interestingly, the two have had rather contrasting cricket careers, apart from the fact that one is a batsman and the other a pace bowler.
Two contrasting players
Anderson has always been labelled a Test cricketer with a phenomenal record, while Rohit, on the other hand, has been one of India's best openers in limited overs cricket since the departure of Sachin and Sehwag. The 'hitman' as he is known, has hit two double hundreds in ODIs and looked a dangerous batsman once set.
However, his Test career has been a rather fortunate one given his abysmal record. That he has benefitted from Kohli's and Kumble's strategy to promote attacking batsmen in Tests is widely known. But despite his recent heroics in the Test series against the Kiwis, a question mark hangs on his ability to produce such knocks against better opposition or on difficult wickets.
With Rohit ruled out of the upcoming Test series against England, India have a chance to finally try someone else at that no. 6 slot. Two of them are Karun Nair and Hardik Pandya, one of whom is sure to replace Rohit at Rajkot.
The Indian think tank may also take advantage of India’s spin-friendly tracks by playing Amit Mishra alongside Ashwin and Jadeja, pushing Ashwin up the batting order.
In his maiden season in Ranji Trophy in 2013-14, Karun hit back to back hundreds to help Karnataka win the trophy. His batting has come of age and he looks a solid batsman with a good technique to revel on the Test stage.
He may have had a disappointing tour of Australia with the India A team, but he has put that behind this season in the Ranji and made scores of 74, 54*, 53 and 145. There is no doubting his readiness for Test cricket at this stage.
His mentor of sorts, Rahul Dravid, who has worked with him at Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Daredevils and India A suggests that the responsibility on him in a young Delhi squad in the 2016 IPL, made him a better player.
"Karun is still a work in progress, but obviously his skills and temperament have got him to this stage," Dravid says. "He picks lengths early; his instincts as a batsman are solid now."
"At Delhi, we gave youngsters responsibility to drive the innings, and let seniors lower down the order handle the slightly challenging situations. He showed his ability to adapt there", Dravid added.
At the moment, he seems ready to slot in at no.6 in the Test line-up. He may get a go in all of the five Tests against England if India decide that extra batsman is the way to go. If they stick to the five-bowler theory though, Hardik Pandya comes into the picture.
Hardik Pandya, another branded limited overs player
In Hardik, India have another player fast-tracked into the Test team with limited game time in Ranji cricket. He may have shown sparks of brilliance in few chances he has got in the International arena in limited overs cricket.
But one wonders if he is a byproduct of India's desperate attempt to find pace bowling all-rounders. With the Binny attempt not bearing fruit, Hardik's chance has come, albeit a bit early.
While heavy criticism has been levied on selecting Pandya, Dravid's work with him in recent times cannot be underestimated. Some of that came to the fore in two mature knocks in the ODI series against the Black Caps.
While they were not necessarily exceptional, it showed that the young bowler is talented enough to perform on the big stage. A bowler who can hit the 140kmph mark and bat well is gold in India. And Pandya has thus far proved to be more than that, perhaps a diamond.
Whether it is a short glimpse in T20s or even in the [New Zealand] one-dayers when he bowled in Dharamsala and batted in Delhi, we could see that he is a quality player and that's why we have backed him to get him into the Test squad because we understand the importance of an allrounder, the importance of a fifth bowler," coach Kumble, who thinks highly of Hardik, said.
"If someone can bowl 140 and give you the option of batting really well lower down the order, that's a great option to have. So we are really looking forward to seeing how Hardik develops."
The added advantage
That Rohit is missing gives Kohli an added advantage of not needing to pick just two from his three competent spinners. If Hardik is selected at 6, he can open the bowling with Shami or Ishant which allows India to play Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra without having to compromise one of the batsmen.
Mishra has been pretty good in Tests for India and is on the back of a Man of the Series performance against the Kiwis in the recently concluded ODI series. The presence of Ashwin and Jadeja has meant he has not got enough chances.
The presence of someone like Pandya gives Kohli an option to play three spinners, which is a huge bonus against a team like England, who struggle against the tweakers.
An eye into the future
While Karun Nair seems the better option in terms of Test cricket, the question returns about Rohit Sharma's future. While he exhibited good batsmanship in the series against the Kiwis in Tests - scores of 35, 68*, 2, 82, 51* in the series - a major turnaround would be if he can replicate that outside India.
The problem with Rohit seems to be that the carefree approach that has won him huge fans in limited overs cricket has crept into his Test game. The casual way of batting augers well with the white ball, on good batting tracks. His record suggests that even with white ball cricket, he is a slow starter. In Tests, he starts off edgy and rarely ever progresses beyond that state. If he does, he has found ways and means to get out with his casual batting.
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That he has been given opportunity after opportunity is without a grain of doubt, so why not give someone else a fair run? Karun Nair has shown he has it in him to nail down a Test spot. He may never be able to do that unless he gets a fair run. The series against England presents that very opportunity.
It is fine if Kohli and Kumble want to stick with Rohit in Tests. It is always good to have a backup option on long tours abroad and the truth is, India do not have backup middle order batsman who has Test experience.
This will present an ideal opportunity for Nair to give Rohit Sharma, who has been having a free run in that Test squad, a run for his money.