Six years ago in Southampton, Rohit Sharma danced down the pitch and hit Moeen Ali straight to mid-off. It was the last over before tea and India was in a decent position chasing England’s first innings score of 569. Sharma was dejected. But that was the old Sharma, one that was still trying to establish himself in world cricket.
Fast forward to Brisbane, it is 2021. Sharma is a world-beater and has rejuvenated his Test career as an opening batsman. He had missed the first two Tests of the series and India has felt his absence. The minute he returned for the 3rd Test, the opening partnership looked stable. At the Gabba, a fortress for Australian cricket, a place where the Australian pace battery thrives, Sharma looks irremovable. He has handled the swing of Mitchell Starc, the seam of Josh Hazlewood and the precision of Pat Cummins with ease. The runs are starting to flow off his willow. Australians knew he was the big scalp. He is the man that can score briskly and take the game on.
Tim Paine finally turns to Nathan Lyon. In the distance, the storm clouds are approaching and so is the tea interval. After a couple of defensive shots, Sharma plays a beautiful back foot punch of Lyon to the cover-point boundary. India is starting to gain the ascendency. The scoreboard still feels like it’s ticking over despite Pujara blocking from one end, it is all due to the presence of Sharma.
Then it happens. The moment the whole of India was dreading. Sharma advances down the pitch to Lyon. It seems like a premeditated move and Lyon counteracts by firing the ball towards leg-stump. Sharma is cramped for room and ends up lofting the ball to wide long-on for a simple catch. Rohit is dejected, the Australians are elated. This is not 2014, it is 2021. Sharma is no longer an infant. He is the vice-captain, and one of the leaders, and probably the batsman the opposition fears the most in this Indian XI. But he is back in the sheds. He has missed a golden chance to stamp his authority on the match.
Speaking about his dismissal Sharma told reporters “My process is when I’m in I like to stay on top of the bowlers and keep the pressure on the bowling unit. I have to do what the team expects me to do. I have to play a certain role at the top of the order and I will try do that as much as I can.”
There was certainly an element of truth to what Sharma stated. He was playing his role and had succeeded at applying the pressure back on the Australians.
The lofted on-drive is Sharma's favourite stroke against the off-spinners. Lyon had blocked the shot by employing the mid-on three quarters back on the boundary. He wanted Sharma to loft the ball in that direction. Even in Sydney, the long-on was in place from the outset and Sharma had still managed to clear the fielder for a six. It was risky, but it had come off. In the second innings, Sharma changed his approach by using his wrists to loft the ball more towards wide long-on.
But Lyon knew the long-on was definitely playing on Sharma’s mind. He either had to take it on or opt for a different stroke. In Sydney, it had led to him attempting the sweep, but in Brisbane, he tried to take it on again. A bit of credit should be given to Lyon because he fired it on leg-stump which prevented Sharma from hitting through the line of the ball. In the end, the result was a tame looking dismissal and allowed Australia to seize the momentum once again.
After Sharma’s dismissal, India didn’t score a run for 32 balls. In hindsight, Sharma was right that if he didn’t take on the bowling then the scoring rate would stagnate. But somewhere there had to be better game awareness.
The clouds were building and tea was just around the corner. Australia's turn to Cameron Green and Cummins had been curtailed. Another 15 minutes and Sharma would still be taking strike on day three. He would have been refreshed and had the whole day to bat, but it wasn’t to be.
Sharma is the leader and has aspirations to be the captain. He justified his role in the team and perhaps the shot was not a mistake. But try telling that to even his ardent fan and they will find that thought hard to digest.
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