Rohit a better bet in Indian conditions

Rohit a better bet in Indian conditions

Rohit a better bet in Indian conditions

There are quite a few similarities between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. They are both from Mumbai, both are right-handed, both bat in the middle-order in Tests and open in ODIs. And while Rahane is a regular in Tests and is a deputy to skipper Virat Kohli, Rohit is one of India's premier batsmen in limited-overs cricket besides being the vice-captain in that format.

Rahane gets to play in ODIs only when one of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit is unavailable whereas Rohit is included in a Test XI only when India play six specialist batsmen or a middle-order slot is vacant. The second Test here against Sri Lanka presented Rohit with one such opportunity as India chose to have only four specialist bowlers. On a good batting surface, albeit the one that had slowed down by the time Rohit had come in to bat on the third day, the right-hander paced his innings to perfection to bring up his third century in Tests. His previous hundred was against the West Indies in 2013 in the Mumbai Test which was also Sachin Tendulkar's farewell match.

After four years and 19 Tests, Rohit finally got the monkey off his back and the relief was all too palpable. Interestingly, it was Rohit's third consecutive 50-plus score in Tests while his Mumbai-mate Rahane had fallen to third straight single-digit score only the previous day. Though Rahane's performances at home haven't slipped to alarming proportions yet, they fall way short of expectations from a batsman of his calibre. There is a massive gulf between the way he bats in India and in overseas conditions, especially on the bouncy and seaming tracks.

At an average of 53.44 in 24 away Tests, Rahane fares a lot better than Kohli (45.13 in 31 Tests) and Cheteshwar Pujara (38.52 in 21) – two of India's most prolific batsmen. And while it's a credit to Rahane that he has done so well in conditions that many past and present Indian batsmen have generally found difficult, the "home truth" is also hard to ignore. A total of 18 Tests in India have yielded Rahane just 998 runs at 35.64 runs per innings, the difference between away and home average being a whopping 17.80 runs. It's also strange that for someone who has grown up on a steady diet of spin bowling, his 13 dismissals (out of 21 times) on Indian pitches have been to spinners, including the latest one off the bowling of Dilruwan Perera who was treated with disdain by the other batsmen.

While teams without exception hesitate little to apply horses-for-courses policy when it comes to bowlers, the same theory is hardly practised when it comes to batsmen. Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma are kept away from the ODI set-up while Jasprit Bumrah is yet to play a Test. Bhuvneshwar, the only bowler playing all formats, in the last one and half years has featured in Tests only when conditions have suited his type of bowling. Even R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been restricted to Tests now.    

It's, however, unlikely Rohit will be chosen ahead of Rahane for the No 5 slot while playing at home despite the former having better credentials. In eight home Tests, Rohit has amassed 654 runs at an average of 81.75 with his last five innings reading 68 n.o., 2, 82, 51 n.o. and 102 n.o.

It's well-established that Rahane struggles when the ball doesn't travel to the bat at an ideal pace. He has generally found it difficult to either manufacture shots or rotate the strike on the slow sub-continent pitches. That explains why MS Dhoni routinely left Rahane out of the ODI sides he led in Asia and also why Kohli doesn't include him in the 11 in ODIs unless he has to open when the ball is new and hard, the pitch has carry and the field isn't spread, making scoring easier. Rohit, on the other hand, is a natural stroke-maker and almost a bully in these conditions. And with the consistency he has shown in the last four Tests, he has made a case for himself to be included in the 11, even if India play only five batsmen.