And I thought my jokes were bad…
When Umesh Yadav, who clearly considers famed no. 11 Courtney Walsh as his batting idol, planted his front foot across the line of a full-pitched Sammy delivery, one could sense a million Indian hearts pushing their way through the throats of a few million Indian fans. The rest of them (like yours truly) simply shrugged and waited for that split second- during which the ball left Sammy’s hand and headed imperiously towards the deer-in-headlights plonked-across front foot. Any moment now, the umpire would raise his finger to an obvious LBW appeal and seal the home team’s tragic fate, catapulting them back to the Srinath-and-Prasad 90s days. Surely, the ball had only two targets- and the bat wasn’t one of them.
Miraculously, though, Yadav managed to sway his bat down in an insanely ungeometrical parabolic curve- somehow finding the ball and pushing it down to mid-on. Sighs of relief swept the stadium, another ball survived. Three runs to….But…what’s this?
The ball did not stop rolling down the bowling-alley of the outfield. In fact, it passed mid-on and continued its merry adventure towards the elusive long-on boundary rope.
One could forgive the spiritedly daft Varun Aaron for pushing away that unpleasant sense of Déjà vu as, without looking up even once, he turned around like a mad dog to scramble for a non-existent second run. With 3 runs to get, poor Aaron may have even been forgiven for wanting to physically pull a serene Yadav out of his batting crease and violently plonk him half-way down the pitch. RUN, please, RUN. This time, there was no Ashwin at the other end calmly talking off his pads and sipping his evening tea at the non-strikers end, refusing to work past his stipulated 9-to-5 job. In fact, this time, there was no long-on either.
Hence, even though Yadav resembled Ashwin on a depressing Wankhede evening as he jogged his first run, he knew one thing: He had broken every possible rule in every possible rulebook while playing that on-drive. His feet, his bat, the balance of his head and his initial movement- it was all wrong. But for some reason, he had timed the ball sweetly enough to give Rohit Sharma enough reason to stop acting like a steroid-ridden Virat Kohli at the boundary ropes.
It was all over. India had won a match that they were destined to lose. With a boundary. Off the completely unprepared bat of a Number 11.
Till that moment, a divinely-talented Rohit Sharma continued from where he had left off 6 months ago, against the same opposition, on the slow pitches of the West Indies. With deft touches and a temperament that rivaled that of the Dalai Lama, Sharma had guided his team from the ruins of 59-5 to the secure confines of 201-7. He was poised to do what he had done twice in his previous ODI series against the Windies, and finish off the game with a non-theatrical single, without playing a single risky shot throughout his serene stay at the crease. To his credit, he was bowled by a seemingly harmless slider from leg-spinner Martin, while strictly adhering to the principle of non-violence. The ball reflected off his pads and made its way to the stumps, reducing Rohit Sharma to a heap of Kohli-isque frustration as he walked back to the dressing room. Fortunately for him, his theatrics at the boundary line when Aaron- in the play of the decade- refused a single to shield Yadav from the strike, were relegated to mere fond memories in the confines of a melancholic mind of every Indian cricket fan that witnessed this skill-less, nail-biting affair of two teams that refuse to win.
Full credit to logic-defying shot-making by Parthiv (whose inclusion continues to intrigue), Gambhir and Raina, and defensive prods that would put Ricky Ponting in his current form to shame by Sehwag and Kohli. Full credit also to the nagging pace of Kemar Roach and the rising star of Andre Russell, combined with some ridiculously outdated decision-making by captain Sammy for exposing the genius of Rohit Sharma and the grittiness of Jadeja to world cricket.
Hook, line and Timber
The Curious case of Rohit Sharma:
Now, there’s one thing about this young man Rohit Sharma: Though he is gifted with the virtue of timing the ball sweeter than the mutant creature arising from the combination of the gene cells of Yuvraj Singh and Mark Waugh, he is still quite suspect in his technique while playing spinners.
As a batsman, his first impulse- like most other Indian youngsters nowadays- is to plant his front foot forward and then decide to negotiate the ball on its merit. Against fast bowling and medium pacers, this habit is not necessarily a mortal flaw- especially in sub continental conditions. But against spinners, not once will you see Rohit Sharma rocking behind on his backfoot to cut or guide the ball through mid-wicket. His first movement, regardless of the ball bowled, is to plonk his front foot forward again. But this time, he goes a step further, and reveals a basic flaw that does not seem to have been pointed out by coaches over the years: Without getting to the pitch of the ball, he clears his front foot time and again, and he relies on nothing but the width of his bat (combined with brave hand-eye coordination) to smother the spin. In the process, a large gap exists between bat and pad- and as a viewer, it is very easy to notice that his demise is possible on every ball that resembles the wrong one, or a straighter flatter slider.
If he wants to put himself above Kohli in the pecking order for that batting spot in the Test team, Sharma will have to eliminate such flaws and use his feet a bit more against the slower bowlers. ODIs are a different ball game with no close-in fielders and bowlers that believe in the art of restriction.
For now, though, we’ll take these invaluable Laxman-isque half-centuries, and the team management’s utterly ballsy decision to stick him at number 5 in the format at the risk of losing his free-flowing, aggressive game. An anchoring role, after all, doesn’t seem to be Kohli or Raina’s cup of tea.