This time last year, Rohit Sharma was the most precious commodity in Indian cricket. The white-ball vice-captain smashed an unprecedented five centuries in the 2019 World Cup, and his stuttering Test career was thrown a lifeline when, taking a leaf out of the Mahendra Singh Dhoni playbook, Virat Kohli promoted him to open the batting in Test cricket as well.
By the time India and South Africa squared off in the first Test of the last home season in Visakhapatnam from October 2, Rohit had played 27 Tests in six years. Having kicked off his red-ball international career with centuries in his first two matches, he had yet to cement his place, but the elevation worked wonders.
Rohit celebrated the move to the top with hundreds in both innings in Visakhapatnam, and backed it up with 212 two Tests later. Alongside Mayank Agarwal, he seemed to have settled India’s opening conundrum for a while to come.
This year hasn’t been kind to humanity as a whole, Rohit’s cricketing journey mirroring the all-round misery. In February, he tore his calf muscle during a Twenty20 International against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, an injury that kept him out of the three remaining ODIs and two Tests.
The pandemic-enforced break allowed him to recuperate and turn out for Mumbai Indians in the delayed Season 13 of the Indian Premier League. But on October 18, he limped out of the double Super Over showdown against Kings XI Punjab with a hamstring injury. At the time, no one knew its seriousness; more than 10 days on, staggeringly, few still know the extent of the damage and the potential time-frame for full recovery, even though Indian teams for all three formats for their tour of Australia beginning next month have been named and Rohit is a conspicuous absentee.
Through a sanitised, sterilised, bare-bones press release on Monday night, the only concession the Board of Control for Cricket in India made to reference Rohit’s non-inclusion was to magnanimously state, “The BCCI Medical Team will continue to monitor the progress of Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma.” That’s it.
In their collective wisdom, the decision-makers believed that sentence was enough to update all primary stake-holders, none more important than the average fan, about the fitness status of the country’s two senior-most players in international contention. No mention of the nature of their injuries, forget about their severity or the rehabilitation period. Rohit made his India debut as far back as in 2007, paceman Ishant is a veteran of 97 Tests.
The bland statement led one to assume the worst, when eventuated a sting in the tail. Minutes after the squads were announced, Mumbai Indians posted a brief video on their social media handle showing their captain batting in the nets that very same night – October 26. Rohit played his strokes freely, showing few signs of discomfort and raising the possibility that as the IPL reaches its climactic stages, he might return to shepherd his franchise’s challenge. What do you make of that?
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) October 26, 2020
In the absence of anything more than the most basic official word, speculation has been rife since Sunil Joshi’s selection panel met, virtually, for the first time since it was constituted in March. It has to be assumed, given that Rohit doesn’t figure even in the Test matches that aren’t due to start until December 17, that the selectors were informed about the opening batsman’s unavailability for the duration of the tour. In that case, they were operating from a position of knowledge, but why the BCCI believes that information need not be shared with a wider audience in the aftermath of the team selection beggars the imagination.
Justifiably or otherwise, all the scrutiny has been trained on the Joshi-led committee, even though not even the chairman is allowed to speak to the media. That puts the five wise men in a tricky position, because they are unable to elucidate the process through which Rohit was deemed a non-starter.
Joshi probably deserves the benefit of the doubt because it was his first meeting as chairman. Now, having witnessed the fallout of the deafening silence, he will not be out of line to suggest that the selectors offer explanations for potentially confusing selections, if only through a press release than a press conference.
Indian cricket has historically, for some inexplicable reason, chosen to treat matters relating to player injuries as issues of grave national security, one would think, given the veil of secrecy in which they are shrouded. One had hoped for greater transparency with a former cricketer – a former India captain, at that – taking charge as the president of the BCCI, but Sourav Ganguly’s tenure so far has been remarkably disappointing.
Among his first remarks since he took over as president in October 2019 was a commitment to ‘look after the financial health of our first-class cricketers’. Twelve months on, nothing has changed. Due to the pandemic, half the domestic season is certain to be wiped out, yet there is no clarity on whether compensation packages are being worked out for men and women, many of whom depend on the sport as the sole source of sustenance and livelihood.
Opacity on even the most commonplace of issues has reached unparalleled heights, even though the man lauded as the Prince of Kolkata spoke more often in his very first week as president than all his predecessors put together. What the Rohit episode has done is merely highlight the total disregard for transparency.
It was only 26 hours before the start of the IPL, on September 19, that the board made it clear that ‘owing to the circumstances, there will be no new media registrations barring the UAE media.’ And, even though the broadcast right-holders have publicised the dates and venues for the Australia series, there is still no official word from the BCCI on the same. Surely, at least the fans who make the sport what it is deserve better.