Opener Rohit Sharma may be under pressure to perform

Though India skipper Virat Kohli had confirmed prior to the first Test that both Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill would be persisted with throughout the series, the former is likely to be under pressure when India take on England in the second Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium from Saturday.

Sharma, the senior of the two openers, did well in 2019 when he was promoted up the batting order to open in Visakhapatnam against South Africa. He scored 176, 127, 14, 212, 6 and 21 for a total of 556 runs at an average of 92.66 and all those runs came at home.

The Mumbai batsman did not play for over a year, due to injury and Covid-19, and returned to Test cricket only last month in Australia. The returns have been pretty ordinary. He has made 26, 52, 44, 7, 6, and 12 for a total of 147 at an average of 24.50.

Sharma’s poor run of scores has reflected in India’s poor opening starts. When he joined the playing XI for the third Test in Sydney, India seemed to have found a solution as he and Gill provided 70 and 71-run starts to the team. India had until his comeback had been struggling to muster up proper opening partnerships — 16, 27, 30, 8, 0, 7, 0, 16.

But after stands of 70 and 71 with Gill, there was nothing worth of note over the next four innings across two Tests. The two put on 11 and 18 in the fourth and final Test vs Australia at the Gabba, and 19 and 25 in the first Test against England in Chennai last week.

While Gill has been getting runs even in the last four innings — 50 in second innings in Chennai and 91 in second innings in Brisbane, Sharma has made 44, 7, 6 and 12 in the last four outings.

Worse is that Sharma has thrown his wicket away after being settled. In the first innings in Brisbane, he looked good at 44 but holed out to long-on off the bowling of Nathan Lyon on what was an irresponsible shot.

He was unlucky to get good deliveries on both occasions in the last Test but with India looking to square the series and desperate to avoid defeat — a loss would mean they will be out of race of World Test Championship final, Sharma will have to up his game.

India could try someone else like Washington Sundar to open and push Sharma down too. Or the host may bring in Mayank Agarwal who is in the squad and who Sharma had replaced after the second Test in Australia.

But India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane backed Sharma saying a few matches don’t make him a bad player.

“Rohit is an important member of our team. A big score doesn’t mean you have to make 100 or 150. In Australia he batted well, made important contributions. See if someone has one off-day, plays 3-4 bad innings, it doesn’t mean that he is a bad player. You have to back your player,” Rahane told the media on Thursday.

“Rohit is a player who has won us many matches in the past. You can’t judge a player in 1-2 matches or 4-6 innings. You know that someone like Rohit, if he gets set, he goes on to play a big innings. He can win matches for you. So it is all about having faith in that particular player. As I said Rohit is an important member of our team. Really happy to have him,” he added.