Most people I talk cricket with know how much I detest the hype around Rohit Sharma. In fact, there's an ongoing storyline about Nohit on Bored Cricket Crazy Indians and Naked Cricket spent his vacation time in Goa stalking Nohit to find out what he was up to.
I don't think those of us who bag him really hate the guy. We can all see he has the ability to bat genuinely well, just that he doesn't make that ability count as often as he should. A few years ago there was another player who had impressed everyone with his exciting batting at the Under-19 World Cup in 2004, two years before Rohit Sharma was the mainstay of the Indian team at the Under-19 World Cup in 2006. That player was Suresh Raina.
Raina made his international debut a little over a year after the 2004 Under-19 World Cup. He played a few decent innings but didn't do enough to nail down a place in the side and was rightly omitted from the squad for the 2007 World Cup. Until that point he had played 36 matches and scored 612 runs at an average of 26.61 and a strike rate of 72.68. The Indian middle order was very strong so Raina didn't get a lot of time to bat. He had just 28 innings in those 36 matches and he batted at number 6 or below in 19 of them. Not the best way to cement your place in the side. Few people succeed in that role at the start of their career. Hussey did it but unlike Raina he had a lot of experience albeit not in the lower middle order.
Raina made his comeback on the back of a strong performance in the 2008 IPL. He's batted in various positions but looks to have matured into a batsman who can adapt to the situation. I think his primary role in ODIs is going to be that of a finisher. In addition, he's India's number 3 in Twenty20 cricket and has had a good start to his test career. The test series in South Africa should be a good test for him.
Rohit Sharma's career has followed a somewhat similar path. Just like Raina, Sharma made his international debut roughly a year after he played the Under-19 World Cup. He too has played some brilliant innings but hasn't shown the consistency required to cement a place in the side. Even their numbers are quite similar, as Sharma in his first 41 matches has scored 695 runs at an average of 24.82 and a strike rate of 72.24. However, and this is not to bag him, Sharma has batted in 38 of those 41 games (Raina had 28 innings in his first 36 matches) and he's got a lot more opportunities to bat in the top 5 (25 times in 38 innings compared to 9 in 28 innings for Raina). Since the start of 2010 Sharma has scored a couple of hundreds but has still not been consistent enough. Meanwhile Virat Kohli has done a lot more in the chances he's got and with the hundred at Vizag should have sealed a place in the 15 for the World Cup.
Sharma is just 23 years old and if he sorts out his game he should have a long career ahead of him in all formats of the game. Just like Raina in 2007, maybe an exclusion from the World Cup squad for 2011 might be needed for Sharma to work on his batting and come back the same way Raina has. If he does, we might just have to stop calling him Nohit!
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