Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Rohit’s first away hundred (127) at The Oval has a story of its own
India on the tour of England in 2021, stood 1-1 going into the 4th Test of the 5-match Test series. India conceded a lead of 99 runs after being sent in to bat with 16 overs still remaining on day 2; the match and the series hung in balance.
With team dynamics witnessed in the recent batting collapses post the early dismissals of the openers, middle-order struggles and game situation, Rohit Sharma walked out at The Oval well aware of the importance of runs on the board and absorbed pressure to play out 256 balls, a total of 6 hours on the crease, registering 127 runs and his first overseas hundred to pull the team out of foreseeable trouble.
Exhibiting impeccable defence, with a good mix of playing the ball late, right under his eyes, to taking big strides accessing the cover region, Rohit’s away form isn’t a one-night success story, on the contrary, far from it.
‘Processes lead to results’
During the media conference, post play on day 3, Rohit Sharma repeatedly spoke about processes, discipline and the importance of spending time on the crease, all things evident in his play throughout the series.
"Most pleasing thing was that I was able to play 250 balls. If you look at all the Test matches [this series] I have nearly played 100 balls in every innings. That to me was a goal. Spending time in the middle was the biggest takeaway for me in the four Test matches," Sharma said at the press conference.
India’s Test opener emphasised on the importance of process for building an innings which result in big scores for batsmen. Rohit Sharma on an average has faced 108.25 balls this series and scored 368 runs at an astonishing average of 52.57.
"It is not just; you come here and get a hundred. It has never been like that; it is a process and it takes time. There will be a process I will need to follow, keep ticking the small boxes and that's something I did when I started opening batting,” he said.
“I knew the results will come, rewards will happen, but it might take time. It's just that you need to be patient. I was very patient," he added.
Previous struggles and the importance of current form
In white ball cricket, Rohit Sharma is the only batsman to have scored at an average higher than 50 for seven consecutive years. Yet the then middle-order bat, someone with clear talent and ability, struggled to hold his place in the Test side since his debut in 2013. A series of inconsistent performances led to two evident fallouts in his game – failing to make an impact in the middle-order and overseas performances in Tests. However, that is a story which is old, to be precise pre-2019.
Opening the batting in Tests
Rohit was given a chance to open for India’s Test team against South Africa in the 2019 home series, 27 Tests and 6 years into his Test career. He mentioned in the previously quoted media interaction that he viewed this as his “last opportunity”.
With his experience of playing international cricket for as long as has, Rohit Sharma rose to score 529 runs in two Test matches against South Africa at an average of 132.25 runs per innings.
"I wanted to think, in a way, this is it - I have to make good use of this opportunity and for that, whatever it takes, I have to do it,“ he said.
Red-ball cricket is inherently more challenging than its white-ball counterpart due to the strong influence of conditions and especially further more tricky in terms of adjusting to unaccustomed pitches away from home. Much like many batsmen, Rohit Sharma struggled to put together his overseas batting in shape but what was astonishing was the deviation between home and away runs.
Adjustments in technique, playing in different conditions helped
These changes are to be attributed to experience facilitating the understanding of how to play in different conditions, slight adjustments in technique – from limited foot movement to taking bigger strides while playing on the front foot and playing the ball late while on the back, helping him rise to number 5 in Test rankings and hold the stature of a reliable opening Test batsmen for India.
"When you play cricket all over the year, those little adjustments you should be able to make [are] based on the situation, based on the conditions, and position of your batting as well. You can't just come and play shots especially in a place like England. You need to understand the situation of the game, certain type of bowlers, considering all that together, there were little adjustments that I had to make and I was happy to do it,” Rohit said at the press conference.
Rohit Sharma, a naturally attacking player, with multiple shots in his arsenal for every ball faced, altered his game to fit within the boundaries of Test match batting and yet made it his own with a unique grace limited to himself.
His hundred at The Oval came at a crucial juncture for his team and recognizing the situation, he played 204 balls to reach the milestone, taking 145 for the initial 50, which goes to show the rewarding nature of the game for exercising hard work and discipline in the middle, especially as an opening bat.
“You need to bring a lot of stuff into your batting: most importantly discipline. That is something I focused on a lot, on [and] off the field. When you are in the nets, discipline is something that I wanted to bring into my batting, whether it is about leaving the ball or possessing a solid, tight defence and all of those things. When you play in these conditions, all those things matter,” he noted.
Rohit Sharma has scored 368 runs in the ongoing India-England Test series 2021, second only to Joe Root and his change of approach and temperament is a breakthrough moment for him as well as a huge positive for the team. Rohit Sharma also received Player of The Match for his 127 runs in the second innings in the 4th Test at The Oval, London.