Rohit Sharma: A ton worth the wait

Indian Express

Indian Express

Author 2019-10-03 10:46:33

Indian Express 3 Oct 2019 08:16 AM

Rohit’s unbeaten hundred on opening debut in Vizag looked all too easy, but it included subtle adjustments and great context,

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A couple of years ago, in an interaction with The Indian Express, Rohit Sharma had talked about his Test aspirations. “I have got nobody to blame but myself. I don’t have any enemies. At the moment, there is a lot of competition for that spot. It’s not going to be easy. Nothing has come to me easily. I have to work my way towards it. I am prepared for it. I have always said Test cricket is my priority.”

Clarity, devoid of victimhood, and focus, and on Wednesday, he walked the talk.

It was a hundred that he would remember forever for the context, even if it came on a placid track against an attack that lost sting after eight overs with the new ball.

It’s easy to dismiss the hundred but it had a few interesting mental adjustments that Rohit had to make.

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The skill-test lasted just four overs from Vernon Philander with the new ball. The man with the briskest walk back to the top of run-up did try to conjure something on a placid morning. The ball just about dinked a little this way and the other, there wasn’t really much movement as such but Philander tried to work on his few-away-before-one-nipping-in routine to see if he can catch the fish. Rohit was beaten a few times, inside edged a couple and there was an over when he just about held his bat inside the line as the ball straightened outside off. One waited for that nip-backer and when it came, Rohit was surprised. He had shouldered arms and the ball slanted in but sailed over the off bail. The two — batsman and bowler — looked at each other, and a gentle you-won-that-moment smile lit up Rohit.

Even in those four overs, Rohit made a little adjustment to try and throw Philander off his rhythm. Every now and then, after a couple of initial push-and-beaten moments, he started to walk down the track. It wasn’t an aggressive Hayden like move but more to get the bowler to drag back the length – which happened- and to make him think about the length in subsequent deliveries.

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It’s for those little adjustments that this innings held value. Like how he made a deliberate attempt to get at the spinners. Not because it was all too easy to do so – that came later in his knock – but because he felt he had to do it on a “slow and low” track, else they could get stuck there, pushing and prodding even against bowlers who weren’t even trying to spin the ball – or so it seemed.

Or in other words, consider the situation where Rohit had got out early and Cheteshwar Pujara was in. He could well have got stuck out there on a sluggish track, trying to work the angles but finding no pace to work with. Not that there is any fault in it even if he took time as runs on board on a track that is likely to disintegrate later should be enough. But with rain around, India was fortunate that Rohit did what he did. Ensuring that the game didn’t stop at any moment.

He isn’t usually great when he skips down the track to spinners when he trying to work the gaps. In white-ball cricket, once he is set, he does do the run-down-and-smash routine. But he isn’t the kind of batsman who goes down and pushes it wide of mid-off or mid-on.

But he did that really well on Wednesday. Time and again, he went sashaying down to push the ball into gaps, not allowing the spinners to settle.

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It helped that there wasn’t much turn, no real danger of him being beaten in flight and left stranded. There wasn’t even the need to adjust his wrists and play with the turn. It was more the intent to not allow the bowlers to settle in a pattern.

The South African spinners too could have bowled a lot better. They had the right idea about the pace on a slow track, pushing it quicker, but that isn’t going to do the trick on its own. To rush the batsmen, to make them sweat, the pace had to be accompanied with spin. That didn’t happen and Rohit and Mayank Agarwal made sure they rotated the strike.

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Agarwal stayed low, and used his bottom hand to crash square-drives or try the late cut repeatedly. Again, no real turn to make either shot dangerous. Faf du Plessis had two men, short mid-off and short extra cover, in case the cover drive looped up, but for that there had to be some dip, loop, and turn. And so, Rohit and Agarwal kept plundering the runs.

Without any guile on offer, the Indian pair didn’t even have to try lofting inside-out or work their wrists overtime when their aggressive instincts came into play. Instead, they could get down to the pitch of the ball and just cream it up and over to the straight boundary. It didn’t even matter on occasions when Rohit wasn’t to the pitch of the ball against left-arm spinner Dane Piedt, as he just went through the line to the straight boundary with nonchalance.

And so when the hundred came, no one would have been surprised. Rohit punched the ball to sweeper cover, and ambled across quietly. No fist-pumping, no leaps, no chest-thumping — just a quiet raise of the bat to the dressing room, a shake-of-hands with his partner, and a polite acknowledgment of the cheering fans. Then, head down, he slowly walked around at the non-striker’s end.

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It was an evening, a few years back, when MS Dhoni told Rohit that he will open the next day in an ODI. “Why not, I will try,” was his response. “Even now in Test cricket, it’s the same position. The first four years, I never knew where I was going to bat,” he once said. The opening gambit in Tests has been on the pipeline for a while now and he was told in the West Indies that his time was now. And he has made it count.

Once, during a horrid time in Sri Lanka, Rohit sought out Sachin Tendulkar for advice. “He asked me to do certain things. I still try to follow that now. I relax, go and watch a few movies, try and sing although I am not good at it, or get my friends over and chill with them.”

Now he can do all that, not to get over the blues but to celebrate the moment he has been awaiting for years now: a Test hundred.

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