At the post-day press conference, Rohit Sharma was defiant. Nobody directly asked him about the shot that brought about his downfall in the series-deciding fourth Test on Saturday, but the Indian team’s vice-captain picked up the hint and backed his shot selection. “It was unfortunate and a very sad dismissal to be honest in the end, but those are my shots and I will keep playing them.”
Rohit’s plan was to get on top of the Australian bowling, Nathan Lyon in particular, and by dint of his ability he has earned the right to play some difficult shots even in tight situations. But did Rohit show the right discipline?
India at half-strength are fighting against a full-strength Australia, boasting a world-class bowling attack at fortress Gabba. Apart from Rohit, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, the Indian batting is short of much Test experience. Rohit was expected to show better discipline.
Seventeen years ago in Sydney, Sachin Tendulkar had scored an unbeaten 241 against Australia without playing a single cover drive. The pitch was flat enough for India to score 700-plus in their first innings and mind, Tendulkar could play that shot better than most in that team. Maybe, only Sourav Ganguly’s cover drive was more elegant. Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Nathan Bracken and Stuart MacGill tried to tempt him with full deliveries outside the off-stump many times. Tendulkar played straighter, drove towards mid-off instead.
Like the ongoing series, that one was also tied at 1-1 going into the final Test. In the previous Test, which Australia had won to square the series, Tendulkar was out caught behind in both innings. As the master batsman would reveal later, the decision to take the cover drive out of his batting wasn’t pre-planned. It was taken on the field. “I realised I needed discipline to be in the driver’s seat.” Tendulkar’s innings lasted 613 minutes and the great man eschewed his ego for the greater good of the team.
When on song, Rohit has a shot-making range even bigger than Virat Kohli. But there’s a reason why Kohli has 27 centuries in 87 Tests, while Rohit is playing his 34th Test and has scored just six tons since making his debut in 2013. Rohit has made his game a lot tighter around the off-stump, especially after he agreed to open the innings in the longer format. But unlike Kohli, he still plays some low-percentage shots. The one he tried against Lyon on Saturday was a case in point.
Lyon was bowling to a plan, having fielders at wide long-on and deep square. He bowled that delivery a bit straighter, around middle and leg, preventing Rohit from freeing his arms. The latter still played the chip, which looked a little premeditated. He wasn’t quite to the pitch of the ball and could have defended it. He could have made some adjustments as well to play it along the carpet. For a lesser batsman, the second option was difficult. But someone of Rohit’s calibre was expected to do the needful.
At the press conference, Rohit spoke about his “process” of trying to dominate the bowling once he was in (well set). And he looked to be in complete control until gifting away his wicket. Whether overconfidence had crept in or it was pure instinct, that would be difficult to tell from a distance. Either way, it was a loose shot. Dominating opposition bowling doesn’t mean not eschewing the ego when required. Better batsmen than Rohit in Test cricket, all-time greats of the game, did it many times. Vivian Richards seldom attempted anything extravagant against Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Tendulkar didn’t mind shunning the cover drive at the SCG. That was batting discipline at its best, which Rohit lacked.
Saturday’s dismissal wasn’t a case in isolation. Rohit, in fact, has been a repeat ‘offender’ in this regard. His batting artistry can match the great Gundappa Viswanath. The latter, however, scored 14 Test centuries and India never lost a Test when he scored a hundred.
“The difference is that GR Viswanath could rise to the occasion and he played according to the situation. Rohit had no business playing that shot, especially when a fielder was posted there. And if he says he will continue playing that way, I am afraid his Test career will be shortened down,” Viswanath’s teammate, former India seamer Karsan Ghavri told The Indian Express.
In 1984, a poor shot from Kapil Dev against England in Delhi had triggered an Indian batting collapse, and the match ended in a defeat for the hosts. The then selection committee dropped the great all-rounder for the next Test for playing a “silly shot”. Nobody is suggesting that Rohit should suffer the same fate as Kapil, and he will not. But maybe, rather than being defiant, the opener should look at his dismissals with humility.
Many moons ago in Pakistan, Chetan Sharma had to face Sunil Gavaskar after getting out to a poor shot. Sharma, new to international cricket then, played like a typical tail-ender, but his captain was livid. The former India pacer would confirm how Gavaskar told him if he ever attempted such a shot again, his India career would be over.
Sharma is now the chairman of selectors and should have a word with Rohit. Gavaskar’s comment on 7Cricket on Day 2 of the Brisbane Test could serve as a good reference point. “Why? Why? Why? That’s an unbelievable shot. That’s an irresponsible shot. There is a fielder there at long-on, there is a fielder there at deep square-leg. You’ve just hit a boundary a couple of deliveries earlier, why would you play that shot? You’re a senior player, there’s no excuse, absolutely no excuse for this shot.”
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