Column | Chance for Rohit to excel in Kohli's absence

Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma celebrate after India won the Test series against Australia in 2019. File photo: AFP

When Rohan Gavaskar was born in Mumbai on February 20, 1976, his father Sunil was in a hospital in Wellington, recovering from an injury to the cheek bone suffered while fielding a forward short leg during the third Test of the series against New Zealand. Gavaskar could come to India only after a further two months had passed, as a tour to the West Indies followed the series in New Zealand. It was only towards end April, when the national side landed in India after the completion of the twin tours, that Gavaskar could see Rohan for the first time and meet his wife Marshneil after she gave birth to the new born.

Fast forward to 2004 when an Indian side under Sourav Ganguly was touring Pakistan. At the end of the first Test at Multan that India had won by an innings and 52 runs, to record their first ever victory in this format of the game in Pakistan, there was a cryptic press note informing that Anil Kumble would be returning to India for being with his wife, who was expecting a child. Kumble was in top form and had bowled brilliantly in this match, capturing 6/72 in the Pakistani second innings. Hence, it was obvious that his absence would be felt. He did not disappoint the Indian fans by returning to Pakistan in time for the commencement for the second Test in Lahore.

Last week, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) informed that skipper Virat Kohli would be returning from Australia after the first Test to be with his wife Anushka Sharma, who is expected to deliver a baby around the start of next year. The announcement of the BCCI did not clarify whether Kohli would get back to Australia once the mother and the newly arrived got back home from the hospital. It appears that the captain is keeping the options open, leaving the possibility of rejoining the squad in case there was an emergency. One hopes that the team performs well enough to give their skipper a well deserved rest and time for bonding with his child.

More importantly, these changes in the attitude of the BCCI as well as the players concerned demonstrate a mindset that is capable of adapting to the needs of its times. During the 1970s and even till the onset of the present century, no player would have dreamt of seeking permission from the BCCI to be allowed a break from the game to spend time with his wife on the occasion of the delivery of their child. Those were the times when it was considered sacrilege even to request for taking wives on tour. The prevailing belief of the times was that wives were a distraction whose present might prove to be detrimental to the performances of the players!

Further, it was only from the beginning of 21st century that cricket came to be played round the year on a regular basis. The onset of T20 cricket and the Indian Premier League (IPL) made the calendar more hectic, leaving top cricketers playing in all formats of the game with little time for rest or recuperation, forget recreation or even spending quality time with their families. Public also tend to forget that players are entitled to their own privacy, besides being responsible for the upkeep and welfare of their families. Hence, it is only appropriate that they be provided opportunities, not only for rest and recharge of their batteries, but also for spending quality time with their near and dear ones.

Moreover, this also reflects a change in the attitude of Indian society towards role of a father and his presence by the side of his wife when the latter goes through the process of delivering their baby. From what was earlier considered to a female bastion from where males were completely excluded, there is a growing realisation that the proximity of the husband by the bedside during the period of labour would make the process easier for the expectant mother. This is also understood to improve the bonding between the father and the child and help in proper growth and development of the latter. No one would grudge Kohli his right to be present at the side of Anushka when the latter gives birth to their first child.

The national selection committee also announced some changes in the squads that had been chosen for the tour of Australia. Those injured had to be replaced, as was the case of Varun Chakravarthy, who was in splendid form in the IPL with 17 wickets, but missed out on the opportunity to play in the T20 series due to injury. This paved the way for T Natarajan, who had made waves in the IPL by his unique ability to bowl yorkers at will, to get the national call. One would expect him to make the most of this chance to cement his place in the Indian side. Sanju Samson is included in the side for One- Day Internationals (ODIs) as the reserve wicketkeeper, which should do his confidence and morale a world of good.

Rohit Sharma
A stern test awaits Rohit Sharma in the Test series. File photo

However, the more important development was the comeback of a player who was not initially considered for the tour due to injury. Rohit Sharma was in the news when his name did not figure in the teams announced by the selectors for this tour. Most observers found his exclusion to be intriguing, given the fact that he was seen practicing in the nets of Mumbai Indians. Ravi Shastri, the coach, gave an interview stating that Rohit’s injury could threaten his career unless he took adequate care while Ganguly, President of BCCI, stated that he was not yet fit. Rohit saga turned murkier when he decided to take the field in the IPL soon days after these announcements and went on to play a crucial role in the final against Delhi Capitals. Subsequently, the selectors decided to include Rohit in the Test squad.

Where does this leave Rohit? He led Mumbai Indians to the IPL title and could take pride in the performance of his side. However, he finds himself out of the national side in two formats (T20 and ODI’s) where he has been the undisputed king, besides losing the post of deputy to KL Rahul in these sides. Further, he has been included in the squad for the longer version of the game where he has been least successful, as can be seen from his record in Tests on foreign soil that shows a total of 816 runs in 33 matches at an average of 26.32. Even worse, he would be required to play under Ajinkya Rahane, presently deputy to Kohli in the side for Test matches, when the skipper returns home for the delivery of his wife. Looking from another angle, this presents him with a great opportunity to come good in an arena where he has not yet met with success and remove the solitary blot that soils his otherwise glittering record.

History tells us that a visit to Australia is never a bed of roses and only the best and lion-hearted meet with success Down Under. Let us hope that Kohli’s boys show the necessary mettle and courage to emerge victorious in this demanding tour and give a rousing welcome to the captain’s first progeny.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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