Rohit: ‘We will give opportunity only to players who have that hunger to play Tests’


Players who show hunger for Test cricket will be prioritised when it comes to selection, India captain Rohit Sharma has said, intensifying the spotlight on Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan, who have been part of recent India Test squads but have skipped Ranji Trophy matches since being left out.

Rohit’s comments come in the wake of BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s warning to players that they will face “severe implications” if they skip Test matches and domestic games to keep themselves ready for the IPL.

“This [Test cricket] is the toughest format,” Rohit said after India won the fourth Test against England in Ranchi to take an unassailable 3-1 lead. “And if you want success and want to excel in this tough format then you need that hunger. It is very important. We will give opportunity only to players who have that hunger. You come to know [easily] the players who don’t have that hunger, [or] players who don’t want to stay here [and play this format]. We come to know that.

“Players who have that hunger, players who want to stay here and perform, [and] play in tough conditions, we will give preference to them. Obviously, it is pretty simple: if you don’t have hunger, there’s no meaning playing such players.”

Kishan was originally part of India’s Test squad in South Africa at the turn of the year, but pulled out of the series for personal reasons. Since then, he has not played any competitive cricket, and sat out all of Jharkhand’s Ranji matches this season. He is due to feature in the ongoing DY Patil T20 tournament – a corporate tournament that is not run by the BCCI but is one players use to prepare for the IPL – on Tuesday when his team, Reserve Bank of India, play their first match.

Iyer played the first two Tests against England before being left out of the squad for the third and fourth Tests. He opted out of Mumbai’s Ranji quarter-final against Baroda, citing a back issue as his reason. He will be representing Bharat Petrochemical Ltd at the DY Patil T20 tournament.

Rohit did not take any names when he brought up the issue of hunger for Test cricket. He suggested that no player in and around the Test squad lacked hunger for the format, but warned anyone sitting out games that players who take their place and perform will be preferred if a selection debate arises. The Tests against England have featured a number of sparkling performances from young players who’ve made their debuts during the series, including Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel, Akash Deep and Rajat Patidar.

“At present I don’t see anyone who doesn’t have that hunger: those who are here in the squad and even those who are not here – every one of them wants to play,” Rohit said. “But the opportunities at this level come very few times. If you don’t utilise that opportunity, then you lose that chance. We all have experienced that. So those players who utilise the opportunities, who make the team win, who perform for the team, obviously that is noted. That is very important.”

Then Rohit directly addressed the IPL question.

“IPL is for us no doubt a good format. But Test cricket is the most difficult format: to achieve success and perform here is not so easy,” he said. “We have seen in these four Tests we have played, the three wins we got were not easy. We had to work hard, batsmen had to spend ample time in the middle, bowlers had to deliver longer spells. So this is a format that involves hard work.”

India have been without a number of senior players during this England series, either for parts of it or all of it. Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami have not featured at all, while a quadriceps injury has kept KL Rahul out since the end of the first Test. Ravindra Jadeja missed the second Test with a hamstring injury, R Ashwin missed a significant part of the third Test due to a family emergency, and Jasprit Bumrah was rested for the fourth Test.

In the absence of these players, the youngsters stepped up, to the point that they rewrote a little bit of history. All three of India’s wins in this series rank among the top six when it comes to having been out-numbered by the opposition’s Test caps.

“Clearly tells me that they want to be here,” Rohit said of the youngsters. “All the hard work that they have done in the past, in the growing-up years, coming through the whole circuit of playing domestic cricket, playing the local club cricket and performing there, and then coming here… Obviously it’s a big challenge to play Test cricket. We all know that. But these guys, when I look at them, when I talk to them, the responses that I get from them is quite encouraging.

“So, my job and Rahul [Dravid] bhai‘s job is to make sure that we give them the environment that they want to be in. And they don’t feel too much about going out there and getting the job done. They want to get the job done, but it is no point keeping talking to them about it or reminding them about it. Because when they come here, they’re very clear in what they want to do.

“Dhruv Jurel, especially playing his second game, showed solid composure. Calmness as well. He has got the shots as well. Played all around the wicket, the first-innings 90 was very, very crucial for us to get close to England. And then obviously again in the second innings, showed a lot of maturity, a lot of composure as well, along with Shubman Gill.”

Rohit praised not just the ability the newcomers have shown but also their willingness to buy into the team culture and do whatever has been required of them.

“Given where we were at before the series, a lot of the players [were] missing – I have mentioned it quite a lot, so I don’t want to keep talking about it,” he said. “These guys who have come in have done the job perfectly. They have taken the responsibility perfectly and you can take a lot of pride from performances like this with inexperienced players.

“Whatever you say, Test cricket throws different kind of challenges, [and] different kind of pressures. But some of these [players] – the way they have dealt with the pressures throughout the series – has been superb. A lot of these young guys have never played Test cricket before, never been part of the Indian dressing room.

“Firstly, to understand the dressing-room culture, that is important and to adapt to the style of what we want to do as a team is another factor as well. But these guys have come with an open mind to do whatever is required from the team. ‘I am going to put my hand up and do it’, and that is the kind of guys you need in the squad. Guys who are ready to take up the challenge, basically putting the team ahead [of] individual [needs], this is what these guys have shown.

“Moving forward, it’s a big plus for us with a lot of these guys coming and showing that they belong here. I know it’s still early days but they have shown that they have all the ability, [and] all the skills to excel in this format.”

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