At times, you can just see it coming – especially in a test match. Rohit Sharma settles down, gets into this cozy little comfort zone, and begins to bat towards the next break. His defensive prods get lazier. It’s like pressing the snooze button on an alarm clock. He plays for time. He doesn’t look in any kind of trouble. His premeditation is there for everyone to see. And then, he decides to plonk his front foot ahead, irrespective of the length of the ball, plays for the straight one, and misses it. The off-stump (or pad) is rapped – the death rattle for viewers, who’re shocked that he has managed to look so lazy and amateur. Just a second ago, he looked in charge. Suddenly, to snuff out the distance between bat and pad, he misses the spinning one.
That’s how Rangana Herath got him bowled twice in the recent test series. Against the run of play. Against time. Against everything.
Rohit Sharma is frustrating to watch in this sense. He makes everything – including getting bowled – look enormously easy. You wonder how such a fine limited-overs opener can display such loose technique in a test match. And this, after doing the hard work and getting to 30 or so.
Even in ODIs, it’s difficult to remember the last time he played well in two consecutive matches. Invariably, in every innings, he will get rapped on the pad in the first two overs, survive (or not) an LBW shout. He will then proceed to decide which Rohit Sharma the world would like to see. He, unlike many batsmen in world cricket, is most vulnerable once he crosses 20. After 70 though, there’s no stopping him. Almost always, he switches modes, as if he was fooling the world till then, and display a kind of ‘cheat code’ level no other opener is capable of achieving. He bats as if he has just come in, and the previous 40 labored runs seem like a distant memory. If he crosses 100, he will end his innings at a phenomenal strike rate – his last 50 runs often come at a record-breaking rate. And he makes it look distinctly non-violent. His hooks are premeditated, his aerial drives are premeditated, and yet, the bowlers can rarely trouble him. There is simply nobody more dangerous than Rohit Sharma once he crosses a landmark, or once he enters the last stretch of his team’s innings.
At Dharamsala, in the first T20 match against South Africa, he made Virat Kohli’s mercurial 42 look like a footnote. He smashed a Steyn-less attack, and I’m pretty sure all his fans were disappointed that he got out just before the final slog overs. 105 wasn’t enough for them, and for me, because he was just getting warmed up for a final tilt.
He’d have been more destructive than Dhoni, Raina and Kohli combined if he was batting with no care in the world in the 19th over. His 209 and 264 in ODIs prove that only he can match AB de Villiers at his peak – which is quite an astounding level on its own. He is easily the worst best batsman in world cricket right now – in the sense that he is electrifying, inconsistent, effortless, temperamental and gifted. He is the best on his day, but these glimpses of brilliance are often on home soil. His great innings are so good that you wonder how Virat Kohli is so much better. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about how Rohit Sharma makes batting look when he’s at the crease. He is probably Sehwag to Kohli’s Tendulkar, because he is going to hold every limited-overs individual innings record for a long time.
He is India’s record holder in ODI and T20 cricket with his individual scores, and I can’t wait till he goes past 100 in test cricket. However, at no. 5 nowadays, you’d not expect the centuries to come. You’d expect grit and caution, skill and a good reading of the game. He must learn that – and every now and then, he can play an ODI or T20 innings to vent out his test frustrations. He is possibly the best home-conditions player to have – he is the X-factor that MS Dhoni often talks about. The others will be more consistent and score more runs in a series, but just for a single-match blast, there is perhaps nobody better and more frustrating to watch than Rohit Sharma.
I’m beginning to wonder that if Rohit Sharma didn’t have a few technique and temperament issues, would he have been the phenomenon that he is today? Would the double centuries and T20 blasts have come then, if he were as tough and prolific as Kohli or Dhoni? Perhaps not.
His flaws make him what he is, and for better or worse, he must be enjoyed and appreciated when in full flight. He must also be cursed when he leaves a gap between bat and pad, or when he wafts at the ball outside off, or he top-edges a hook. But if those shots come off, and they do quite often, it becomes a privilege to watch.
His full-flight is a sweet spot most players don’t achieve in their 20-year careers; and Rohit does it once or twice a year. He is in the team to achieve that sweet-spot day of batting, which is why his failures are tolerated far more. There has perhaps never been a sweeter marriage of failure with success, of hits and misses, of form and class – as is the case with this Indian opener. They’ve learned to co-exist with one another in his black-and-white world.