Rohit Sharma
India's Rohit Sharma in action during the third Test against England at Narendra Modi Stadium, Motera in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Runs on the board. That’s what won India the two cricket Tests against England. When wickets were clattering like nine pins, runs mattered. Rohit Sharma provided India with the bulk of the runs, making it possible for the Indian spinners to attack the flat-footed England batsmen.

Sharma thrived when all other batsmen struggled. The 161 in the second Test at Chennai and the 66 in Ahmedabad were more proof that Sharma has the temperament to succeed in Tests. His skill and technique were never in doubt, with the prolific scoring in limited over matches making him one of the best in white-ball cricket.

For all his batting magic, Sharma remained an enigma in Test match cricket. There were several innings of sheer brilliance only to lapse into long spells of lean scores. An admirer of Sharma’s genius, I was often at a loss to explain the mysterious run of poor scores. One moment, he’s totally in control, toying with the bowling, only to gift his wicket with an ambitious shot.

When talents don’t turn into performances

In previous reports, I had likened him to West Indian Carl Hooper, who never did justice to his batting talent. I could even add New Zealand’s Martin Guptill to that list. All these batsmen play with such abandon that they have the time to place the ball where they want. That requires a kestrel’s eye and amazing hand-eye coordination. Watch an innings of Vivian Richards, and you’ll know what I mean.

Well, Sharma is no Vivian Richards. The man from Antigua was a natural, the kind only the Caribbean can produce: like Learie Constantine and Gary Sobers. But Sharma’s game bears a close resemblance to another Richards: the South African great Barry Richards. The short-arm pull off the front foot and the square cut off the front foot have Barry Richards written all over it.

The South African’s batting genius was lost to Test cricket due to Apartheid, but his first-class knocks in England and Australia have had the cricket writers drooling. All those critics who carped about his lack of Test scores were silenced by some blistering knocks in Kerry Packer’s Super Tests. In one instance, when the two Richards batted together for the Rest of the World against Australia in 1978, Vivian was a spectator to Barry’s mastery. Well, when Barry departed, Vivian unfurled his prodigious talent with an electrifying innings.

Hitman the white-ball cricket wonder

I digress. Back to the Hitman Rohit Sharma. He had a couple of good knocks in South Africa when a young Indian side went on to win the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in 2007. But it required some scintillating knocks in the Indian Premier League to haul him back into the Indian side. But his patchy Test form led to being dubbed as a white-ball wonder.

I have always argued for his inclusion in the Test squad. For, his skill and finesse are unmatched, at least in India. If a batsman can score three double hundreds in 50-over games, he surely can succeed in Tests. That was my belief. But my friends dismissed it, saying Sharma has had more than his fair share of chances.

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Now, I feel vindicated. Look at Sharma’s Test scores in the recent past. Since December 2018, he’s scored 1,087 runs at an average of 60.38 with four centuries. In the recent win in Australia, Sharma propelled India with good starts in the last two Tests, although he couldn’t convert them into bigger knocks.

The second and third Tests against England showed that Sharma’s batting is on a different plane. When most batsmen struggled to cope with the turn and variable bounce in Chennai, he was at his sublime best, scoring at around run a ball. It was almost as if he was batting on a totally different strip.

In Ahmedabad, where the pink ball was skidding through Sharma’s judgement and choice of strokes were impeccable. Until that poor sweep shot in the first innings. Clearly, Sharma was the difference between the two sides. Pakistani great Zaheer Abbas and Indian legend Dilip Vengsarkar have lavished praise on his batsmanship, with Abbas calling him the best player of spin in the world.

If Sharma can continue in this vein, he can easily find his way into the pantheon of great Indian batsmen.