Rohit Sharma possesses the extraordinary ability to leave one short of words with his brilliant stroke-play or evoke plenty of words with his frustrating strokeplay. On Saturday in Brisbane, not for the first time in his Test career, he made us go “wow!” and “why, why, why?” in the space of just a few minutes.
Facing Cameron Green in the 19th over of the Indian innings on day two at the Gabba, Rohit played a check-drive that saw the ball caress outfield at Gabba on its way to the boundary rather than scorching it like a tracer bullet. The instant reaction one could have was, “wow, just how good was that?” irrespective of which side your loyalty was on.
Facing Nathan Lyon in the 20th over, after already having hit a four, Rohit came down the track and tried to take on the fielders in the deep. Because he knows, if he gets the timing right, fielders in the deep don’t matter. He did so in Sydney not long back, going from 47 to 51, off Lyon. It came off, then. At Gabba, batting on 44 with not long to go for tea, it did not come off. The instant reaction many had was, “why that shot and why now?”
That was Rohit Sharma, the Test batsman away from home, in a nutshell. Some may think that is a very specific subset to be talking about but it is the subset that every one who has followed Rohit’s Test career wants him to succeed in.
Here’s the thing: Rohit Sharma loves using his feet against the spin, he enjoys playing at a good tempo and is blessed with the envious skill of timing. When he played this exact some shot in Sydney, to the same bowler, to the same field, he managed to get closer to the pitch of the ball, kept his balance, gave himself enough room to flick his wrists. The result? The ball sped mostly along the turf to beat Mitchell Starc at long on. In Brisbane, he was caught off-balance, the ball was not underneath his eye-line, and the result? The ball was skied to Mitchell Starc at long on.
On both occasions, the intent was the same but the result was different. On one occasion he reached a half century with a boundary, on the next, he was dismissed when plenty more runs were on offer after he had done the hard work to see the new ball off.
One who lives by the sword, gets dismissed in Test cricket by it.
Intent is an intangible factor that no one quite knows what to make of in cricket. From Virat Kohli mentioning the word in response to India’s 36 all out in Adelaide to Ricky Ponting questioning the lack of it during Australia’s batting in Melbourne, then to the discourse surrounding Cheteshwar Pujara’s knock in Sydney, intent has followed the Border Gavaskar Trophy around in Australia.
When it comes to Rohit, it was again up for debate in Sydney too. Not long after he had hit that four off Lyon to reach his half century and with not long to go for stumps, he played a pull shot that he always trusts himself to execute. Instead of playing out the remaining overs in the day, he kept going the way he liked to. The result was another dismissal close to the end of a session.
There too emerges a pattern: it’s not just the question of how he gets dismissed but when. For someone gifted with an impeccable sense of timing while batting, Rohit’s dismissals in Tests away from home have often come at an inopportune time for him and his team.
Rohit Sharma's last 7 Test inns (away)
|Match||Runs||Balls||When dismissed||Batting position||Mode of dismissal||Innings of match||Match day|
|Brisbane, 1st inns||44||74||6.1 overs to tea (stumps)||1||caught at long on||2||15 Jan 2021|
|Sydney, 1st inns||26||77||18 overs to stumps||1||Caught & bowled||2||7 Jan 2021|
|Sydney, 2nd inns||52||98||3.4 overs to stumps||1||caught at fine leg||4||7 Jan 2021|
|Melbourne, 1st inns||63*||114||6||1||26 Dec 2018|
|Melbourne, 2nd inns||5||18||4.1 overs to stumps||6||Caught at slips playing a cut shot||3||26 Dec 2018|
|Adelaide, 1st inns||37||61||18.3 overs to tea||6||Caught at long leg||1||6 Dec 2018|
|Adelaide, 2nd inns||1||6||3.4 overs to lunch||6||Caught at silly point after coming down the track||3||6 Dec 2018|
Even on the two occasions that Rohit was dismissed in the middle of a session, he was out caught in what could only abstractly termed soft dismissals. First in Sydney 2021, a gentle pat back to the bowler that was caught and the other in Adelaide in 2018, when he once again played a big shot one ball after hitting a six and was dismissed at a crucial time in the innings, just when India were starting to fight back.
It is easy, then, to be frustrated by what he does because Rohit too knows his dismissals cause frustration. Surely, he does. His success in the last few years across formats has come from a place of being secure about what he does, trusting his application and timing. Even his tremendous run during the 2019 World Cup witnessed him play knocks where he either took his time to get going or be the aggressor from the word go. His success in ODIs, his ability to play the long innings, has been attributed to his defensive solidity first and flair (which he always possessed) next.
With him, at this stage of his career, it is not about technique anymore but temperament. In the heat of the moment, it is easy (and understandable even) to make throwaway comments like Ajit Agarkar wondering in the Sony Studio if a well-set Virat Kohli would play this shot. It’s a moot point that none of us can prove but he wondered anyway.
But former England opener Nick Knight was more measured when he said, it was question of how much Rohit wants to rein in his attacking instincts when playing Tests overseas where he is yet to score a century. In other formats, in other situations, he can trust his gut to go after the bowling because he has a template for success. In this role, he is yet to find that.
No one plays the pull shot better than Rohit Sharma in this Indian side. And yet, he keeps getting out to the pull from time to time. No one hits more sixes than Rohit Sharma in this Indian side. And yet, he keeps getting out trying to play the big shot from time to time. Arguably, no one has looked as in control or classy as Rohit Sharma in the time he has played this particular Test series. And yet, he has just 122 runs to show for it in three innings.
At this point, it’s a question of how Rohit sees these dismissals more than the rest of us do. Is he as frustrated? Is he blase about it? Will he continue trusting his timing and intent to dominate bowlers because it’s the method that works? Over to him.