Good form can hide even the biggest of technical glitches of a batsman. It can make you feel on top of the world despite having those faults in the technical aspect of your game. However, it’s nothing but sound technique that turns out to be your best friend in testing conditions.
Rohit Sharma, who was on top of the world a couple of months back with a fabulous run of form in all three formats of the game at home, is now struggling to get going in South African conditions. And his poor run of form can be attributed to his faulty technique that went unnoticed during his rich home run.
His scores in the ongoing One Day International (ODI) series against South Africa read 20,15,0 and 5 respectively. Stretch those numbers to all the ODIs he has played in the Rainbow Nation so far and they read 126 runs in 11 innings at an average of 11.45 and at a far more dismal strike-rate of 53.41. His Test numbers on this tour — 123 runs in four matches at 15.37 — do not make a good read either.
He can still be pardoned for his failures in the Test series as none of the other Indian batsmen except skipper Virat Kohli looked comfortable against the Protea pacers. Moreover, he has hardly looked assured in Tests and it was his good form against weaker opponents like Sri Lanka at home that created the illusion that he deserves a place in the Test squad against South Africa as well. So, to expect him to do well in Tests, that too in South Africa against such bowling attack, was always an exaggeration.
However, he has no excuse for his failure in this ODI series so far as his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan has shown superb form besides skipper Kohli as well. It can be argued that both Kohli and Dhawan have had luck on their side in this series on some occasions whereas Rohit hasn’t had that privilege. But, the duo has looked confident and comfortable against the South African bowlers whereas Rohit has looked totally clueless and out of sorts.
So, what are the glitches in his technique?
He has been dismissed in three different ways in this series so far — twice by short deliveries, once by pace and swing, and a strong bottom hand in defence leading to his dismissal on another occasion — all of which reveal the discrepancies in his technique.
In Durban, he charged to a length ball from Kagiso Rabada and got out trying to slog. The bounce on that delivery was enough to take the top edge of his bat and land straight into the gloves of Quinton de Kock. Instead of trying to get on top of the bounce, Rohit tried to manufacture his own shot out of nowhere.
The situation was ideal in Centurion for a Dhawan-Rohit century stand as India required only 119 runs for victory. But, this time too, he committed the same mistake as he got underneath a short ball from Morne Morkel instead of getting on top of the bounce. Those short arm jabs might work on pitches with less pace and bounce, but it’s not the way to go in South Africa. His tendency to hook the ball in the air without getting on top of the bounce led to his downfall once again with Rabada catching it inside the deep fine leg boundary.
In the third ODI in Cape Town, Rabada exposed one of Rohit’s old weaknesses once again — the inswinging delivery bowled in Rohit’s corridor of uncertainty. That kind of delivery has troubled him on numerous times in the past and it was no different this time.
Pitched on a good length, the ball swung back and took the inside edge of Rohit’s bat before landing straight into the keeper’s gloves behind the stumps. The tentativeness and indecisiveness regarding the way to play the delivery — on the back or the front foot — led to his dismissal this time. This is one of the most important reasons why he struggles in Test cricket too.
In the fourth ODI in Johannesburg, it finally seemed like he has learnt that he cannot just smash his way through the initial spell of fast bowling. He tried to weather the storm, took his time and tried to see off the initial overs. However, this time, it was more due to the strong bottom hand in his defence than the delivery coming a bit slow after pitching that he ended up being caught and bowled off Rabada’s bowling.
He took 19 deliveries for his five runs and didn’t make it count with a big innings. Rohit here seemed to be hurried by the pace and change in length of the delivery. Moreover, the non-uniform pace of the wicket seemed to give him a hard time as well. This was the chance when he should have really made it count considering the nature of the wicket and the way Dhawan and Kohli played afterwards.
Now, with all the glitches in his technique highlighted, one might want to know how does he average 51.95 and 53.30 in ODIs in Australia and England respectively where pitches have traditionally favoured bowlers?
The answer to that question is that the wickets in those two conditions in recent years have been mostly good batting tracks and you can trust the pace and bounce which are even and uniform on most occasions. Australian wickets are more batting friendly than anywhere in the world at present and hence his average of 51.95.
His average of 53.30 might sound crazy considering the fact that the conditions in England have traditionally been swing friendly and that has been Rohit’s nemesis throughout his career. However, the run fest in the Champions Trophy in England last year might have shown that how the conditions there have changed of late and favour the batsmen more.
Now, consider his averages in New Zealand and Pakistan which read 38.28 and 29.00 respectively. Both the conditions are conducive to pace and swing. That sums up the low averages in those countries. Moreover, consider his average of 30.09 and 25.34 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively. That would once again give an idea of his struggle against uneven bounce and non-uniform pace which are the characteristics of the pitches of those countries.
So, it's quite clear that these faults in his technique have been there right from the beginning of his career. Despite his excellent ODI record, he fails to score where it matters and that is because of the frailties in his technique. It's high time he rectifies those.