India vs Australia: The Rohit Sharma template
Skipper, one of the very batters to have succeeded in India in the last few years, explains the method behind his run-making
AHMEDABAD: Visualise a Rohit Sharma dismissal in Indian conditions. Do you get a carbon copy of the way he was dismissed in the first innings at Indore (he was out stumped after he came down the track to hit Matthew Kuhnemann)? If yes, it's not recency bias. It's not even confirmation bias as there exists a perception that he likes to take on the bowling to set the agenda. That's the method he has cultivated for himself to thrive in conditions where run-scoring has become more challenging than wicket-taking.
Since the beginning of 2019 — when home results became more significant because of the implementation of the World Test Championship — Sharma holds the dubious record of being stumped the most number of times (four) in Tests. Sure, you can dismiss it as a statistical anomaly but skim through the data and all of his recent innings at home, one thing becomes clear. He doesn't like losing his wicket by playing a defensive shot. He doesn't like to jump down the ground to block with bat and pad close together, in the manner that Cheteshwar Pujara does.
It, at least partly, explains why he has been so successful — relatively speaking — in handling these strips. While the available data suggests he has been one of the best batters across both teams in the ongoing series (most runs and only centurion), his method is based on being proactive; not allowing the bowlers to set the tone. Now, this can mean different things to different teams.
Here's Sharma explaining his method. "Hmmm, see, I think when you are playing on these kinds of pitches, you have to slightly stay ahead of the bowler as well," he said on the eve of the fourth Test at Ahmedabad. "Before he does anything, you are ready with what you want to do." There's a degree of premeditation in this approach but it gives him a way to seed a doubt in the minds of the bowlers.
When replying to the answer, he name-checked the ton he got in Chennai in 2021 on a turner that had plenty of spin and bounce. "From the top, what I think is trying to stay ahead of the opposition," he said.
"Nagpur was a great example for me as well as to how I wanted to bat in the series. Also, we played a series against England. In that, I got a 100 in Chennai where the ball was turning a bit. I try to apply myself, try and do what I'm good at, and things like that. You have got to adapt to your strength and it will be different from the others. I try to stick to my plans, my strengths... what I do best."
That Chennai Test stands out for one reason because Sharma, somebody who uses the sweeps when the pitches call for it, swept his way to a match-winning 100. He sussed out the pitch and went on the attack against Olly Stone and Stuart Broad and brought up a 47-ball 50. Even if that innings wasn't chanceless, you make your own luck. After that innings, he revealed he had specifically prepared for the sweep shot in training. "When you play on a pitch like that, you have to back your natural instincts," he had said.
"We created a rough and I played the sweep (in training). The idea was to stand on the middle and off and sweep anything that was outside off. You take the lbw out of the equation and you can top-edge it, but short fine wasn't there." He got out holing out to deep square leg while attempting another sweep — an occupational hazard when you are premeditating — but his innings had already become a game-changer.
In fact, he tried to do something similar against Kuhnemann in the first innings at Indore. Sharma tried to slog sweep Kuhnemann's fourth delivery but the ball turned, bounced and comfortably beat his outside edge. So, his next attacking shot was to try and hit him over long-on, another of his big weapons. He came down and was out stumped. Others may have preferred to play a more cat-and-mouse game rather than engaging straightaway and Sharma is aware of that.
"If they are trying to bowl in one area, they are just continuing to show a lot of discipline, you’ve got to try and do something different," he said. "Especially on a pitch (Indore) like that. When the pitch is playing nice, obviously then it’s your call, your strength, what it is. Some guys are okay to play 70-80 balls for not many runs, but some guys will not allow certain guys to bowl in certain areas, so it depends on different individuals as well, as what they want to do and how they want to counter that plan."
For Sharma, who has holed out five times in the deep in India since he became the default opener in 2019, the best way to counter the bowler's plan is to transfer the pressure back onto them. With some of the other batters looking out of sorts, the onus will again be on him to do the same in the fourth Test.