ROHIT Sharma boasts of a bouquet of exquisite shots that make him look exceptional when they come off. The Mumbai right-hander though can end up looking inept while attempting the same strokes on other days, often leading to a volley of brickbats questioning his attitude, commitment and technique.
THE BACKFOOT PUNCH
The backfoot punch through cover point. If I play that shot then I feel like everything is there. It’s all about position — if I connect with one then I feel like my head, my fingers, my hands, my elbow, my feet, everything is in place. I’d say I’m desperate, initially, to play that shot. If I get that shot out, say in the first two overs, I feel really confident. It’s comparatively easier to play one between covers and mid-off but a backfoot punch between cover and point isn’t easy at all.
Stand tall Down Under, crouch in SA
When you go to different parts of the world, you change your technique a little bit. In Australia, you need to stay a little upright to play the backfoot punch or the pull because of the bounce. When you go to South Africa or New Zealand where there is swing, you got to be more focused and put your weight forward so that you cover the swing well. You cannot be standing upright and play the swing like that. You’ll be in no control and end up stretching to play at the ball. And before long, you’ll get nicked out.
A shot that can backfire
It’s very important to understand that it could be your strength but can also be your weakness. If you don’t time the ball, and if you’re even a split second late, you can be caught at slip or caught behind. Recently, in New Zealand, I got out trying to play that shot. I got out trying to pierce a gap. It swung a little more, took the edge to first slip, out.
Pack the punch
It’s very important to understand where you are playing the backfoot punch. In India, there’s generally not much bounce and it’s difficult to play that shot and so, you play the cut-shot a lot. You play over the covers. But when you go outside India and there is bounce, backfoot punches are very important as they get you lots of runs.
It again has a lot to do with the astroturf wickets I grew up playing on. In school cricket, in Borivali where I used to stay, if you didn’t have a pull shot or cut shot you couldn’t survive. Nobody was going to bowl up to you.
They were all going to bowl short and bounce you out. And the ball rises, so at times you had to play the pull off the front foot there. For most parts, you had to stay on the back foot. When most Indians walk out to bat, the first few deliveries are short balls.
I remember it happening to me too a few times. In a way, I’m a bit fortunate as I’m so used to playing it.
Positioning it right
Playing the cut-shot is all about getting into a good position. Otherwise you will be in trouble because of the movement. And the bowlers are sharp overseas, coming at 140+.When I was in school, I used to play on cement and astroturf wickets a lot till I was 15-16.
On those wickets, the ball tends to come on to the bat a little quicker and also rises up more. It develops your timing.and that’s why I am comfortable playing the cut-shot and my back-foot play.
Peril at the front foot
At least 60-70% of the runs you score in your career are off the front-foot. It gives you immense belief when you can get on to the front-foot and defend the ball. If you are playing confidently off the front-foot, it means your feet are moving really well.
The cover-drive is the most dangerous shot to play when the ball is moving. The new ball just takes off the wicket and it can get your outside-edge anytime. So it’s best to leave the ball alone early for the first 3-4 overs.
If your foot moves half an inch less than it should while you’re playing the cover-drive, that’s a technical error. That was happening to me in South Africa. I was just putting my foot around half-an-inch closer to my body than I should have. If I would have stretched it that much more, my head would have been right over the ball. From where I was, I was playing the shot loosely.
In Durban, I was out lbw when my front-foot went too much across. Philander had bowled an in-swinger and it was difficult to adjust from there. If my foot was an inch closer to middle-stump rather than off I could have played that ball.
That’s how intricate front-foot technique is. Concentration is paramount of course. You need to keep telling your mind that your foot needs to be in the right position but in that case Philander had set a trap for me. He kept bowling out-swingers and then he slipped in an in-swinger.
DOWN ON ONE KNEE
A shot of our times
Those shots like the one where I go down on one knee and swat it over deep backward square-leg have come to me with time. In limited-overs cricket you need to dominate and those shots are required. But you can attempt them only when you’re seeing the ball well and you are really confident. Say when you’re coming off a century.
Or a double-hundred. When I made my Test debut last year in Kolkata I had just scored 209 in an ODI at Bangalore against Australia. And when I walked into bat, the score read 83/5 and Shane Shillingford, the off-spinner, was bowling really well. But I was buzzing with confidence and played all my shots, including some from my limited-overs repertoire.
Mothball reverse sweep please
Having said that, I never play the reverse-sweep. I honestly don’t know how much I can score with that shot. Say you end up playing two reverse-sweeps and get boundaries, that’s still just 8 runs. So why risk it. It looks fancy but I’m more confident of playing in front and scoring runs.
THE INSIDE-OUT SHOT
Risky but worth it
We play so much cricket in Mumbai where the ball turns and you’re batting on red soil. You have to use your feet. Else, you will get out. When you use the feet you often go inside out and play chip shots. I’ve become a little stronger now so I can play it with a little aggression. It’s a risky shot too because you can get out like that. If you mistime the ball, there are two fielders there at sweeper cover and long off. You have to have the the confidence to clear the cover fielder. And if you miss the ball, you’re stumped. Every big score I’ve made you’ll certainly find quite a few inside-out shots.