Seam or spin, Rohit Sharma stands tall when India need him most
Shashwat Kumar was in Nagpur as Rohit Sharma scored a majestic hundred, proving once again that he can stand up for India when they require him to, irrespective of the conditions.
The build-up to the first Test was dominated by discussions on how the pitch would play. It has not been the rank turner many predicted it to be but as Ravindra Jadeja showed yesterday, batting is not easy either. Unless you are Rohit Sharma. The India captain, who came in to bat on day one after Australia had folded for 177, barely broke into a sweat as he registered his ninth Test hundred. He looked calm at the crease throughout his vigil and seemed to make the right decision always, whether it was against pace or spin.
This means that Rohit now has eight tons on home soil, which is the same number as Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. He averages a shade over 75 at home (second-highest of all time with a 20-innings cut-off), indicating that Rohit has gotten a hang of how pitches work in India and what kind of questions they pose. What has been different in the past couple of years is that he has conquered a variety of conditions. Rohit has become one of the most complete Test batters on the planet; he averages 48.52 since the start of 2021, and 43.21 away from home, this despite batting at the top of the order, largely considered the toughest gig in this format.
He enjoyed his finest hour as a Test batter in England in 2021. He batted more than 22 hours on that tour (in four Tests), scored a match-winning century at The Oval and silenced countless doubters. He left the ball judiciously, played late and only attacked when it was pitched in his areas. And yet he didn’t lose his signature style. Every defensive stroke was textbook, every drive sumptuous.
Similarly, in Nagpur against Australia, he let the ball come to him and did not go searching for opportunities to attack. When Pat Cummins erred early on, he took him for plenty. When a bowler bowled well at him, he gave the deserved respect.
His footwork is spot on and his decision-making late, a must on pitches that offer sideways movement, either for a pacer or for a spinner. Earlier in his career, Rohit had a tendency to plant his front foot and then access the ball from that stationary position. Nowadays, he is nimbler on his feet and only commits when he is absolutely sure of what he wants to do with any particular delivery.
His best knocks in recent times, which include massive hundreds against South Africa at home, a ton in England, a superb counter-attacking century at Chennai against England and this epic in Nagpur, all portray these exact themes: sure footwork, clarity of mind, pitch-perfect tempo. He understands where the runs will come from, and he acknowledges that, on occasions, he will have to bide his time, knowing fully well that he can flick a switch whenever he wants.
It is the sort of zone Rohit was in at Nagpur – away from all the chatter about the pitch and the growing scepticism around his fitness. He batted as if he knew exactly what the ball would do, and unfurled the big shots just when he had to. On a surface where most batters struggled to get into a rhythm, Rohit was humming, creating a sweet and melodious symphony.
But the ease he appears to possess can bely the difficulty of the conditions he has conquered. His home success can be taken for granted, with India dominant and touring sides timid. But thriving when the ball is turning and the eyes and hopes of a nation rest on your shoulders is no mean feat. The hundred at The Oval came with India trailing by 99 to set up a famous win. In the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, he gave India a series of secure starts, even though others claimed the plaudits.
Rohit has shown he can play all types of bowling in all manner of conditions, and that he can negotiate the toughest moments. He has cast himself as one of the best Test batters in the world. Enjoy him while you can.