India in South Africa

Is Rohit Sharma a flat-track bully? His performance in South Africa is a tell-tale sign

The 30-year-old has scored a ton of runs everywhere, but has not been able to make merry in the seaming tracks of South Africa.

Rohit Sharma has been one of the leading lights of Limited-overs cricket in the recent past. With three double centuries to his name, the opening batsman is the epitome of perfection when it comes to the 50-over cricket and T20s. But his showing in the one-day series between India and South Africa has raised doubts over the 30-year-old’s ability to score runs in seaming conditions.

With scores of 5, 0, 15, 20 in the ongoing series, Rohit has so far failed to give a good account of himself in conditions where the ball moves around a bit. Other than his marauding form in India, Rohit has excelled in countries like Australia and England where conditions for limited-overs cricket are usually favourable for batsmen. He averages over 50 in both countries. While pitches in these two countries offer considerable bounce, they seldom provide wickets with lateral movement, found commonly in South Africa. It begs the question – Is Rohit Sharma, in fact, a flat-track bully?

In a recent chat with The Field, former South Africa skipper Kepler Wessels observed that Rohit was falling short in his technique while attempting to combat the lateral movement prevalent in South Africa.

“His footwork is the problem,” Wessels said. “He always struggles to score runs in South Africa. He advances with his front foot across the offside.

“South African pitches always seam a little and they bounce so that is where by now his average is 10 in South Africa. It doesn’t affect him in India and Australia because the ball doesn’t seam. In Australia it just bounces. When you have seam and bounce, that technique doesn’t work,” he added.

Eye on World Cup

With just about a year left for the 2019 World Cup in England, most teams are looking to fine-tune their squads ahead of the quadrennial tournament. For India this upcoming period represents a crucial phase which could change the dynamics of how the event will be played.

Despite Wessels’s reservations, Rohit is a batsman whose reputation precedes him. With three double tons in ODI cricket, one of which came just a few months ago, Rohit has more or less ensured his presence in India’s squad for the World Cup.

For India, putting the best foot forward is more than essential as it is the same country where they were handed a comprehensive defeat in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy by Pakistan.

Going back and proving their worth would be high on agenda for this champion side, which has won nearly everything over the past year and a half.

The likelihood of flat tracks is high during the World Cup. Wickets during ICC events seldom tend to have many demons. In England, the trend is likely to remain the same. As such, Rohit has no reason to worry, despite the lack of runs from the first four ODIs against South Africa.

Now in South Africa, India are getting a first-hand view of how bowler–friendly wickets feel like overseas. Their bowlers have done exceptionally well. That the spinners are leading the attack has been one the most surprising aspects of the ongoing series.

The batting, though, seems over reliant on skipper Virat Kohli and Rohit’s opening partner Shikhar Dhawan. With India’s issue with No 4 yet to be solved, a sound top-order is non-negotiable. The win in Johannesburg has allowed South Africa to keep the series alive. The prevalent circumstances make Rohit’s loss of form in South Africa a worrying turn of events.

Flatter pitches

Pitches in ODI cricket are losing their zing across the globe. Batsmen are increasingly becoming the dominant force. Many like Rohit have made merry as bowlers fiddle around trying to extract help from tracks that promise nothing but big runs.

However, to attribute Rohit’s success in ODIs just to flat wickets would be unfair. Rohit has bloomed in recent times. Over the years, his ability to make big runs consistently has left many observers awe. Rohit’s strength lies in the array of shots at his disposal. The effortless manner in which he scores is a treat to watch for most. When Rohit gets in the groove, he plays with balance and panache that is hard to come by.

Sadly, all that seems to be getting put aside when Rohit takes the crease in South Africa. A little lateral movement puts him in an awkward position that he’s struggling to combat.

That only one country in the world provides wickets for ODIs with some help for the seamers is indicative of the state of our times. Want of big runs trumps the traditional urge to watch battle between bat and ball.

In the context of the game, though, he remains a vital cog, one who India will want to come good as they chase a series-clinching win in Port Elizabeth.

For Rohit, there are two ODIs left for to prove his worth and put his South African hoodoo to rest.

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