The heart says he should. For obvious reasons – his extraordinary batting skills, stroke making, ability to play late among other things. He appears to be a complete package for Test cricket just like he is for limited-overs cricket. But, ask your mind if he merits a place in the squad. The reply isn’t positive. There are doubts. Not that brain says something else about his talent. It just starts calculating his past performances in the Tests.Sharma hasn’t done enough for anyone or his fans to put his case in front of the selectors. After a sparkling start to his Test career where he slammed two back-to-back hundreds in his debut series against the West Indies in 2013, the stylish batsman hasn’t really impressed anyone to stand up and notice.
Post the two Tests against Windies (177 in Kolkata and 111* in Mumbai), Sharma has just notched up four half-centuries in the next 29 innings with the highest being 79 against Sri Lanka in Colombo last year.
Whatever be the case, the selectors and his captains – Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli – don’t have an iota of doubt about his talent of excelling in Tests. He dominates the domestic bowlers when he plays first-class cricket, but what happens to him in Test cricket is still a subject of research.
Kohli’s confidence in Sharma was seen in West Indies recently when he surprisingly chose him over Cheteshwar Pujara in the playing eleven in the third Test. Sharma didn’t do much to his captain’s faith in him with a nine in the first innings, but followed it up with an aggressive 41 in the second. The Port of Spain Test was rained out, though.
Come to the ongoing Duleep Trophy final, the hardworking Pujara, playing for India Blue, has put his case again for a place in the playing XI (he will retain his place in squad, no doubt) with a double hundred off the pink ball under lights in the final against India Red at the Greater Noida Sports Complex.
At the same time, Sharma lost another opportunity with a good looking 30. In what could have been a great opportunity to silence his critics, Sharma blew it away with an awkward aerial shot against leggie Amit Mishra that saw the ball land into the hands of Shikhar Dhawan.
But whether he has thrown away his chances will only be known on Monday when the selectors pick the squad.
There will be some interesting discussions in the selection committee other than Sharma. Gautam Gambhir will be eagerly looking forward to it, especially with the kind of form he has shown in the Duleep Trophy – 320 runs in three games with four half-centuries has been quite impressive.
It could not be just the runs, but the way he has scored might convince the selectors to take him back. One could see the Delhi opener batting like how he is known for with confidence and grit. Another could be the selection of the talented and hardworking Manish Pandey, who stole the limelight with his dominating performance in Australia for India ‘A’. It is high time the selectors gave this young Karnataka batsman a chance to prove his Test skills.
Rest of the squad remains the same. The selectors would go with the spin trio of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra, while Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav would continue.