Can Rohit Sharma script a happy ending?
Virat Kohli made for fascinating viewing in the Test series. He was a man with limited time - at least, so it seemed to outsiders. He fought hard, was heckled by crowds, responded in a manner that brought him sanction; his batting improved, he got into verbal tussles with the opposition; in press conferences he questioned the question marks against him.
Kohli lived his struggle out in the open. Just as fascinating, off the field, was the life of Rohit Sharma. He came to Australia, the country of his Emerging Player tours, the country where he first announced himself as a proper international batsman four years ago, as someone who hadn't done his gifts justice, as someone who had mended ways to be handed a second chance. Despite being the most naturally gifted of the younger crop of batsmen in India, he wasn't part of the World Cup triumph.
That hurt. Rohit came back last year a fitter man, a better fielder, and did well enough to be Man of the Series in two ODI series against West Indies. Despite his first show, Rohit wasn't taken to England to play Tests. And when he landed for the ODIs, having spent time in India waiting for his next chance, the first ball he faced ended his tour. He came back with a broken finger, got fit again, did well in the ODIs again, scored runs in the Ranji Trophy, and that's where the new dream began, with his getting picked for the Tests in Australia.
Rohit would have probably prepared himself to miss out on the first Test. However, as the series progressed, another fascinating story began parallel to that of Kohli's. Of a young man trying to come to terms with not being considered good enough for a side that was losing match after match. For eight innings, India persisted with the same personnel and same batting order for the same results.
In the training nets, you could see on Rohit's face the whole story. Four or five days before each Test he would be enthusiastic in the nets, having long hits. As we would get closer to yet another Test, the enthusiasm would slowly wane, and he would be reduced to bowling more than batting on the eve of the match. You could tell from his face he was not playing. He would have had memories coming back when Wriddhiman Saha played the Adelaide Test. In February 2010, Saha made his Test debut in a match that Rohit was going to play but for an injury during the warm-ups five minutes before the toss. Now Saha was playing a Test Rohit had reason to believe he should have played.
All the while experts and fans couldn't work out why he didn't get a chance even in Adelaide. Without having played a game, in a way Rohit's stock kept going up, but not in a desirable manner. You don't want to be the victim; in fact you want to guard against any such feeling even if you are one. It is difficult to know how Rohit felt through the previous month, sitting on the sidelines, getting his hopes up and then not making it.
Whichever way he felt about it would have become worse on Wednesday night, in the first Twenty20 international on the tour. So much build-up, such a long wait, and he gets an offbreak first up that hits his pad outside the line of leg and then hits the stumps. It is easy, at such times, to fall into a trap where you start thinking that you have run into some bad misfortune. That, as some of the Indian players have been repeating, the time is bad.
Barring injuries, though, Rohit will get enough time over the next month to fight these early signs of trouble. He will get time to express himself, and show what improvements he has come back with. It will be an important month for him. Winds of change are threatening to blow for the Test side. He will want to do well in the ODIs so that he is the first new man in. He has the talent, he has done it before, which can equally be said of India's ODI side. Like the team, where he is mentally is the big question. Over the next month, if you want to follow a good story, don't look away from Rohit.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo