Rohit Sharma had all the makings of a legendary Test batsman when he shot onto the international cricketing scene many seasons ago. He has, however, disappointed his fans and followers. The question is, is he happy with the legendary status he has achieved in limited overs cricket or does he still crave that Test fame?
There was this talented batsman from Mumbai, still in his teens, who had had a string of failures in the local league in the late 1970s. In one match, after yet another low score, as he sat brooding in a corner of the tent, one of the city’s top coaches said to him, “You can’t get a hundred from the confines of the dressing room. To score runs, you have to be out there in the sun, playing out the good deliveries, scoring off the bad ones and setting new targets every time you score 10 runs.” That boy later amassed a few thousand runs in first-class cricket and played for India too.
Sanjay Bangar, the India batting coach — and also a product of the Mumbai school of ‘khadoos’ batting — would do well to pass on that message to the likes of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and a few others in the Indian dressing room. Not that they may heed his advice but he can try, for sure.
Scoring a hundred in the longer format of the game isn’t the same as scoring a hundred in either limited overs or twenty-20 cricket. They require two different mindsets altogether. If a parallel be drawn, it is the difference between a sprinter and a long-distance runner; Usain Bolt versus Mo Farah. The latter for instance, with his slow twitch muscles may never be able to run a sub 10-second 100 metres like Bolt. But few can match him in the 5,000 and 10,000-metre events. In the same way, a great Test batsman like Cheteshwar Pujara may never score a 50-ball hundred but when he has to score runs, under pressure, in the five-day format, he will come up trumps most often.
Great distance runners like Farah compete against themselves. They know that 25 quality laps in the 10,000-metre run, each timed to perfection, can win them gold medals most of the times. In the longer form of cricket, it is about 10 quality blocks of 10 runs that fetch hundreds. It is about switching on and switching off between deliveries, gathering 10 runs, in a block, and then moving on to the next block of 10 runs till 10 such blocks are completed. The truly great ones then start from scratch, once again.
Batsmen, these days, practice power-hitting in the nets. They build muscles in the gym, possess bats that have a lot of ‘meat’ in the middle and learn to hoick good deliveries into the stands. Slogging is an instinct that batsmen now pick up at a very young age. Therefore, when they need to survive in tough situations, their mindsets let them down. The problem is, the T20 leagues that have blossomed all over the cricket-playing world — including the IPL — pay handsomely for this brand of cricket.
White-ball cricket has its specialists like Colin Munro, Glenn Maxwell, Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy and quite a few others. They haven’t however been able to adjust to the demands of red-ball cricket. Rohit Sharma, sadly, is one among them. Only a few like Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson have excelled in all three formats. What, therefore, one may ask, is the difference between a Kohli and a Rohit Sharma? The answer is simple: Kohli is like Farah; Rohit Sharma is like Bolt. The former, a master of long distance running, may return decent timings in sprint events too. Bolt, on the other hand, due to mental and physical limitations, could be a poor long distance runner.
It is much easier, with field and bowling restrictions, to get away with mistakes in cricket’s shorter formats. Test cricket is unforgiving. A normally fluid striker of the ball in limited overs cricket can look like a dilettante when facing a world-class bowler, with a few slips, gullies and short-legs breathing down his neck. If white-ball cricket requires agility, quick reflexes and power, red-ball cricket calls for endurance and mental fortitude.
That said, how does a player who is as talented as Rohit Sharma adjust to the requirements of Test cricket? Can a batsman like him, who is considered to be a legend in white-ball cricket, ‘relearn’ the art of batting in Tests? He has scored 7,454 runs in 193 ODIs @ 47.78 and has 21 hundreds up his belt. Three of them — hold your breath — are double-hundreds. He also has four hundreds in T20 internationals. As compared to this, Rohit Sharma has clearly underperformed in Tests. He had scored only 1,479 runs in 25 Tests, before the recent one at Adelaide, with only three hundreds. What has appalled his well-wishers, however, is that he has not put a price on his wicket in the longer format.
Why do players like Kohli, Root and Williamson keep scoring runs in all forms of the game, while awesomely talented batsmen like Rohit Sharma, along with Maxwell, Morgan etc. fail in Tests? To understand this phenomenon, watch a typical Kohli inning in ODIs or in T20s. He starts off playing normal cricketing shots, rotates strike regularly and steps on the accelerator only when he is set. Hardly ever does he play fancy strokes or the slog shots. This is true of a Root or a Williamson innings too.
Rohit Sharma can become a great Test batsman if he remodels himself on Kohli. But first, he will need to look in the mirror and ask himself — with great honesty — if he would like to be remembered, a few decades from now, as a great limited overs player rather than a legendary Test cricketer. Changing track now will require a major mindset change. He will need to think like a Test cricketer who also plays other forms of cricket. Right now, he is a great limited overs batsman who also aspires to be a good Test batsman. If he can convince himself about the switch over, he may no longer score a 50-ball hundred in ODIs but the new mindset will fetch him everlasting fame as a Test batsman.
He will need to learn to graft; put in the hard hours in the middle. Play normal cricketing shots, run the singles hard and learn to survive when the going gets tough. Like Farah, he will also need to endurance-train his mental muscles. The talent is there but the question is: Is Rohit Sharma’s heart in the right place?
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a mental toughness trainer.