Dhoni's dilemma: Rohit or Tiwary?
Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary stood at opposite ends in the same net during the practice session. One would bat for three-four deliveries against the fast bowlers, then the two would jog across and the other one would face the next few balls. There was not much to choose between the two. Tiwary walked down the pitch and lofted one over extra cover. Rohit hit the glass panels of the dressing room with a meaty hook. Of course, there was no guessing which of the two looked more elegant. There is also no guessing whom the team management prefers more.
Rohit averages 17.33 in ten ODIs this year. Tiwary hasn't got a game since December 2011 despite being a part of the squad. Will he finally get one soon? MS Dhoni did not reveal much. "That's a difficult choice that as a captain you have to make," Dhoni said after the second ODI. "You always back youngsters but what is important is that in the process you are not coming in the way of somebody else who is sitting on the bench. It is something that we need to decide, make a conscious attempt to [be] honest to yourself and not commit any harm to any other player."
Rohit and Tiwary made their ODI debuts within eight months of each other. Rohit has played 82 games, Tiwary just six. And we still talk about the potential of both men, revealingly in the former's case and correctly in the latter's. No one can deny that Rohit has had several chances to display his potential, and has also shown us some glimpses of what he can do. Tiwary's six games have been spread over five series. No one can deny that Tiwary hasn't had enough opportunities to show us what he can do.
Tiwary made a match-winning hundred in his last ODI, against West Indies in December 2011. He has since travelled to Australia for the CB Series and to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, and wasn't considered worth a single game for a side that did not make the finals of either tournament.
Rohit, Man of the Series twice against West Indies last year, got an extended run, deservedly, in Australia and Bangladesh. Again, in Sri Lanka, Rohit has been preferred over Tiwary for the first two games. These are his ODI scores so far in 2012 - 21, 10, 33, 15, 0, 4, 68, 5, 0.
In his defence, he has come in very late in some of those games but he has also thrown it away at times. Short and wide deliveries have been cut to point; they have also been slashed to the wicketkeeper. In the first game of the ongoing series in Hambantota, Rohit walked in to bat at 180 for 2 in the 32nd over, lasting eight balls before he was bowled, caught on the crease to one that nipped in. In the second game, there was a bigger opportunity - to rebuild the innings from 33 for 2 - but he chopped one on to his stumps for a duck.
Rohit gives the impression of being at ease and of having time to play his strokes. It is, therefore, annoying he is nowhere near as consistent as the likes of Virat Kohli. The same languid style that is pleasing to the eye appears casual when he gets out. It is understandable why the team management has invested in Rohit, but after a point, even the most talented are to be judged by the scoreboard.
In Australia, Dhoni had indicated giving Rohit as many games as possible, even at the expense of leaving out Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir or Virender Sehwag from the playing eleven. Backing youth comes at a cost, but the price seemed justified in Australia since the three senior top-order batsmen didn't need to play in every game.
But does it seem acceptable now? Is Rohit the young batsman blocking the path of Tiwary the young batsman? That is what the captain and the team management have to decide. Dhoni would only say that he believed in giving players a decent run.
"What I personally believe in is to give a batsman or a bowler a few games before we change him because it gives him an opportunity to prove himself. In the same way, if he is not performing and then the new guy comes in, then you give him a stretch of games so that he is confident that he won't be shuffled in every match. I feel that's a good way to go ahead because it gives you a cushion of the next three or four games [that assures] you are the person who would be playing."
So does that mean Rohit will get another game? Does that mean Tiwary will finally get off the bench? We will have to wait till the third game on Saturday for the answer.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo