There’s not much to celebrate from an English point of view in the second Test. England teams usually collapse on bunsen burners so what we’re witnessing shouldn’t be a surprise. However, what we can do is appreciate the quality of the opposition. Rohit Sharma was class on day 1. Here’s Abhijato’s assessment of one of the most aesthetically pleasing batsmen in the world …
Artists despise being called ‘talented’, because they feel it takes away something fundamental from their pursuit of perfection in their craft. Most artists also realise perfection does not exist. There is always going to be a critic who dislikes Picasso, and an English teacher who does not understand why Shakespeare holds the sway he does over the English language.
Cricket is a romanticised sport. We often find ourselves lost in the poetry written by the willow of someone who can play an effortless cover drive. It is madness, perhaps, to score four double centuries in one-day cricket, a format which provides only the illusion of security.
Batting against the white ball is an art in itself, which has not been deciphered by most batsmen, or even most teams, around the world. Yet, there are just a few who seem to be able to combine the serenity with the madness – people with talent, methods, and a disregard for cricketing convention. Rohit Sharma is people.
He gives laziness a bad name. His elegance is not constructed out of sheer will and his technique has never been developed to perfection with a protractor. The world tries not to allow him to take pride in his effortlessness. Yet, it comes naturally to him. It always has.
For the longest time, the same critics compartmentalised him into a headspace where he was destined to remain an unfulfilled talent. Yes, he does have some fantastic ODI numbers – 7,148 runs as an opener at 58.11 is not shabby. As an aside, it’s the best in the history of the game from the position he plays in. He has the most T20I centuries as well.
But he was forever meant to be the ‘next Sachin Tendulkar’. He matured the day he realised to express himself as not the reincarnation of his country’s greatest batsman, but as someone who is very much a product of his times, and a unique one at that.
Comparing him to an assassin on the cricket field – he’s nicknamed the ‘Hitman’ – might come across as hyperbolic to some. But as his latest innings showed, the method to his madness is here to thrive. He’s transformed himself from a precocious talent to an elderly statesman of the game.
World-weariness is a common symptom in the works produced by mature artists. Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, has always been weary in the way he ambles up to the crease, in his minimalistic footwork, and in his lack of effort towards finishing off his best shots. Most coaching manuals would discourage you from playing the way he does, but they don’t – most coaching manuals also bear in mind most of us will never be able to play the way he does.
Steven Smith’s idiosyncratic works for him like a raucous symphony. His numbers have thrived across all three formats of the game, which has led critics to quietly accepting his unorthodoxy as a side-effect of his greatness. The one person he’s compared to most often is someone from another era – Donald Bradman. And while Rohit isn’t Bradman (no one is), his numbers at home paint an unparalleled picture for the modern era. Whenever he’s batted in his whites within the confines of India – in 16 Test matches, to be exact – he’s scored at an average of 83.55 with seven hundreds and five fifties. That’s Bradmanesque.
This is no mere fluke, and neither is this a vindication. The six innings he played in Australia in India’s historic series victory a few weeks ago show where he is with his Test match batting right now. He’s got all the tools he needs to survive – he can defend everything except for the rippers – and he’s quite clearly got the experience as well.
But in almost all his matches in Australia, he got starts but then got out. This was for one simple reason. If Virender Sehwag revolutionised opening against the red-ball, Rohit Sharma is amending the steps his predecessor invented, and refining the percentage cricket which has now been proven to be an effective way of playing Test cricket.
Rohit Sharma does not seek to merely survive. He seeks to attack, to dominate, and to score. His critics have long asked him to amend his ways to more hostile conditions. Batting on foreign soil and feeling nervous is no fault of his own – but he seldom seems nervous in the ways he steps out to the spinners and the swingers alike. He’s got swagger – and for someone who has so much baggage attached to his ability, he utilises it to play like a man without a worry in the world.
There simply hasn’t been convincing proof thus far that Rohit Sharma is going to come across as an all-time great when his numbers playing away from home are considered in isolation. And there is merit to the argument that the team should have gone with an uncapped player who had proven himself in the India A tours – such as Abhimanyu Easwaran – or a youngster like Gill when an opening spot found itself unoccupied after KL Rahul’s departure from the side a couple of years ago. But the former’s prolific streak has ended, while the latter is now playing in the team alongside Sharma.
The harshest critics will keep hammering home the ‘What Ifs?’ every time he’s the victim of an attacking shot which doesn’t come off, or at the receiving end of a great ball he cannot do anything about. As an opener, he’ll get the great balls more often than any other batsman in the side. And as an opener, he’s decided to take the attack to the opposition at every opportunity he can.
He scored 80 runs off a mere 78 balls in the first session of this Test. He slowed down only as an afterthought, like an artist who realises the climax of his work needs to be comprehensible in order to entertain. There was grit and patience in the way he accumulated the other 80 runs off his innings. Until, of course, he got out sweeping to deep midwicket on 161 off 231 balls– the one shot he played so early and so often that when he was finally caught trying to play it, he must have been as shocked as we were disappointed.
Rohit Sharma gives laziness a bad name. He has worked on his fitness after a streak of injuries in the recent past, and he’s refined his red-ball batting to complement the attacking instincts of this new Indian side. He’s still learning how to channel his white-ball record into his red-ball instincts, which makes him as imperfect a Test cricketer as they come. Yet, he’s also the perfect mentor for his attacking young partner, Shubman Gill.
He knows his critics will always be around, but only as long as he himself remains. And when you’re Rohit Sharma, could you care any less about what they have to say?