New Delhi: Former Australia batsman Dean Jones feels Rohit Sharma's rare talent is undisputed but his defensive skills are letting him down in Test cricket. Barring captain Virat Kohli, none of the specialist Indian batsmen could negotiate the potent South Africa pace attack in the two Tests that the visitors lost to concede the series.
Sharma, who was picked ahead of vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane on "current form", too failed to justify his selection mustering 78 runs in four innings at 19.50. "I look at him and he is technically sound. But the first thing that goes wrong in your game is your defence, and his (Sharma's) defensive skills are letting him down," Jones said.
"In Test cricket, 70 percent of batting is about your defence and in one-dayers, it is 40 percent. So his defensive skills are letting him down. He has got to take pride in his defensive skills like Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and even Virat Kohli," he said further.
Sharma went into the South Africa series at the back of scintillating form against Sri Lanka at home, where he smashed a third double hundred in ODIs and a joint-fastest century in T20 Internationals. Considering the touch he was in, the team management preferred him over Rahane.
Jones said India needed a tough tour like South Africa to sort out their team selection. "You need to have these kind of tours to sort out your composition, to find out whether they are good enough or not. So maybe there has been too much reliance on his (Sharma's) ODI form but all in all you have to have a series like this to find out if they are good enough.
"If he misses out in the next series, Ravi (Shastri) and Kohli can say 'we gave you the opportunity'," said the 56-year-old, who was in the capital to promote the 'Visit Victoria' education and tourism campaign. Former India captains like Ajit Wadekar and Bishan Singh Bedi attributed India's surrender in South Africa to lack of preparation and the fact that they went into the series opener at Newlands without a warm-up match.
Jones, however, has a different take on the touchy topic. "The modern-day schedules are such that often there is no time for a warm-up game. But why should you only rely on that? I have spoken to the likes of VVS Laxman, who tell me he, Dravid and Tendulkar used to start preparing three months before touring Australia.
"Dealing with the bouncing ball and so on. So the players have got to take the responsibility individually (when it comes to preparation)," said Jones, who represented Australia in 52 Tests and 164 ODIs. In India, he is best-known for his 210 in only the second tied Test in history, at Chennai in 1986. The series in South Africa out of their grasp, Jones feels it is still not the time to judge the current Indian team, which is scheduled to tour England and Australia later this year.
"I think the structuring of the series (with no warm-up games) is such that once you lose the first Test, it is very tough to come back. You don't have many teams winning overseas anyway. I was researching on this, probably South Africa is the only team which has done well overseas in the past 10-15 years.
"You can be a hit harsh but it (series loss in SA) is not the be all and end all. No doubt Kohli and Ravi would have wanted things to go a bit better. South Africa is a hard place to win in. Australia have won on their last two tours there."
Looking ahead, Jones said the England tour will be a sterner test for the Indian batsmen as the pitches in Australia have become flat. "Kohli can only make so many runs, you need other players
to stand up. England tour is going to be interesting. There are some question marks about the guys' techniques. They can play well. Like Tendulkar and Dravid, you got guys like Rahane and Pujara who stay side on and watch the ball late.
"And you got bowlers now who can bowl over 140 kmph and swing the ball. So I would like to judge this Indian team by how they do over the next two-three years. They have had just one bad tour," opined Jones. Asked about his thoughts on modern-day greats Kohli and Steve Smith, Jones said the Indian captain is his favourite player though Smith is a genius and his numbers are better.
Kohli averages 53.51 in 65 Tests and Smith 63.75 in 61 games. "His (Smith's) numbers are better and he is different. All the greats are genius and they are different. Bradman was different, he played with split grips and so do Kohli and Smith. You don't teach them how to play with split grips.
"Smith reads the length better than most, he has got an eye like a dead fish. How do you teach that? And my favourite Kohli is bringing in the traditional style of play in all three formats but Smith is different. It is okay to be different," he summed up.