Hambantota: Rohit Sharma is at once the most exhilarating and exasperating of the younger generation of Indian batsmen. When he leans forward and caresses a length ball on the up through covers, or twirls his wrists and directs a similar ball through mid-wicket, he elicits oohs and aahs; he also attracts anger and frustration when he chases wide deliveries and gifts his wicket away, or plays the loosest of strokes without provocation when, for all practical purposes, he has the bowling at his mercy.
There is something about outrageous talent, perceived or real, that generally tends to get a longer rope. Rohit is no greenhorn - he first played for India in July 2007 - but it's a sign of how much faith has been invested in him and how much confidence the men who matter have in his abilities that despite five modest years at the highest level, he still continues to find favour.
Only Rohit knows what goes through his mind. He has the swagger of youth that doesn't necessarily arise from setting the world afire, and in an era where so much emphasis is placed on body language, he appears not to be too concerned at not realising his huge potential. Admittedly, that's a dangerous assumption to make because no one who plays at this level does not have pride in performance, but if Rohit has as many critics as he has unabashed admirers, it's largely because of the vibes he sends out.
Make no mistake, Rohit Sharma at his languid, fluent best is a sight for sore eyes. He seems to have that extra bit longer to play his strokes, he is seldom hurried by the bowling, he sees gaps where others see fielders, and he can strike the ball magnificently without hitting it in anger. He has the confidence of the think-tank, the backing of his team-mates - come to think of it, there is very little not going for Rohit. Why is it, then, that after 82 matches - most of them at No. 4 or No. 5 - he has just two hundreds and a modest average of 32.22?
Contrast this with Virat Kohli who, at 23, is two years younger than Rohit. Kohli made his India debut 13 months after Rohit, and has clearly left his ‘senior' partner far behind. Not only does he have 12 ODI centuries in 87 games, he has already played Test cricket and made a hundred in the five-day format, and is obviously being groomed for the India captaincy. Rohit hasn't played a Test match yet - the closest he came was in February 2010 against South Africa at Nagpur, when he twisted his ankle at practice on the morning of the match and allowed time to pass him by.
Especially for someone from Mumbai, the acknowledged home of Indian batsmanship, Rohit's propensity to throw away starts and his consistent inconsistencies are hardly edifying. He has phases where he scores runs in a clutch - like when he had six half-centuries in nine innings against the West Indies, away and at home, between June and December 2011 - but he also has periods when he does precious little. He has just one fifty in his last 11 innings, and scores of 5 and 0 in this One-Day International series in Sri Lanka. Yet, he continues to keep out someone who, in his last ODI appearance, made a century.
Manoj Tiwary continues to be the nearly man of Indian cricket. Tiwary was rushed into the playing XI no more than 36 hours after landing in Brisbane as cover for Yuvraj Singh in February 2008, and didn't turn out for India for more than three years. Only once has he played two matches on the trot; four and a half years since his debut, he has six appearances to his name, the last producing an unbeaten 104 against the West Indies in Chennai in December 2011.
Surely, it's time to allow Rohit to sit back and reflect on where his career is headed? Surely, Tiwary, at 26, desperately needing a platform to express his skills, deserves a look-in? "That's a difficult choice to make as a captain," Mahendra Singh Dhoni said. "You always back youngsters but what is important is that you are not coming in the way of somebody else who is sitting on the bench. It is something we need to decide, make a conscious attempt. You must be honest to yourself and not commit any harm to other players.
"What I personally believe in is to give a batsman or a bowler a few games before we change him because it gives him an opportunity to prove himself," Dhoni added. "If he is not performing and a new guy comes in, you give him a stretch of games so that he is confident every match. He should know that if doesn't perform in this particular game, he won't be axed. That's a good way to go ahead because it gives you a cushion of three or four games at a stretch."
Does it mean Rohit's time is up and Tiwary's here, at least for now? Colombo on Saturday will provide the answer.