On March 2, 2008 when Rohit Sharma was busy in a match-winning partnership with Sachin Tendulkar in the first final of the CB Series against Australia at the SCG, Virat Kohli was leading the India U-19 side to victory in the final against South Africa.
In that final in Sydney, Tendulkar scored a hundred while a young Rohit stood out with a composed 66 against a strong Aussie bowling attack. By the time, Kohli made his debut for India a few months later, Rohit had had a clear head start and was destined for big things.
But nearly eight years after, Kohli is India’s premier batsman in all formats and while Rohit is now a modern day-giant in limited-overs cricket, his failure in Tests remains a mystrey of epic proportions. Despite debuting for India a full year before Kohli, Rohit played his first Test more than two years after the Delhi dasher. Kohli is now the Test captain while Rohit, after starting off with back-to-back hundreds in his first two Tests, played only 14 more matches and is far from cementing his place in the longest format.
Rohit has been making runs by the heaps since a batting promotion in early 2013 – since then he has slammed two ODI double hundreds including a record-shattering 264 at the Eden Gardens against Sri Lanka. He was the top-scorer in India’s recently concluded five-match ODI series against Australia while Kohli finished a close second. Then why does the Mumbai batsman lag so far behind in Test cricket?
Former Australian captain Ian Chappell feels Rohit is intimidated by Kohli’s success and reputation in Test cricket.
“I wonder if one of his problems isn’t similar to what seemed to afflict Gordon Greenidge. The West Indies opener was a fine player but like a startled tortoise he’d retreat into his shell when Viv Richards joined him at the crease.
“At times in Test cricket, Rohit seems overawed by Kohli and his reputation, and struggles to play in his shadow,” Chappell wrote in his column for ESPNcricinfo,
Chappell feels the No.3 spot could be ideal for Rohit, who would then be more settled before the arrival of the “big gun” Kohli.
“There are a number of things holding Rohit back as a Test batsman. He’s ideally suited to the No. 3 spot, but despite chances he hasn’t made it his own. His biggest failing is not coming to grips with a batting rhythm that suits him at Test level,” wrote Chappell.
Chappell lauded Kohli for slipping so quickly into Tendulkar’s shoes. After the Master Blaster retired in 2013, Kohli has been wildly successful at that position in Tests, hammering hundreds the world over.
“Kohli slipped easily into the large shoes of Tendulkar at No. 4 by not only understanding his responsibilities but also his style of play. It seems that the tougher the task the more he is inspired.”
The stark contrast in the approaches of Kohli and Rohit showed in the final Test against South Africa at Feroz Shah Kotla late last year. While both batsmen struggled on spin-friendly pitches, Kohli found his groove in Delhi with scores of 44 and 88 but Rohit played a poor shot in the first innings to attract widespread criticism. He made 1 in the first innings and bagged a golden-duck in the second, leaving his place in the Test side in serious jeopardy.