ICC World Cup 2019: Zen and the art of Rohit’s batting
For a genuine six-hitter (fact: he has already hit 23 more sixes than Sachin Tendulkar ever did in ODIs, and 102 more than Virat Kohli), Rohit’s strokes are shorn of violence. Delicate yet dangerous, like a jellyfish.Updated: Jun 04, 2019 09:21 IST
Rohit Sharma isn’t as much batting in the throwdown nets as he is meditating. All around him at Southampton’s Hampshire Bowl, occupied by the practising Indian team, there is chaos. Nearby, Hardik Pandya and Yuzvendra Chahal are having a laugh. In the adjacent nets, MS Dhoni is clattering the ball into the empty, folded seats. But Rohit is silent, and so is his gentle bat.
Even the men providing Rohit with the throwdowns are noisy. Batting coach Sanjay Bangar is chatting with the throwdown specialists, whose sling-cups fizz as they release cricket balls. When the throw pounds the surface it causes a thumping sound—something like a foot trying to kick a door down. But as soon as the ball climbs off the deck and enters Rohit’s airspace, everything goes stealth.
Feline footwork shapes him up for his shot, before his fluid hands sway through the line. When the ball meets the bat it doesn’t thump like a drum stick but shushes like a drum brush, and the sphere is carefully airdropped beyond the boundary ropes. For a genuine six-hitter (fact: he has already hit 23 more sixes than Sachin Tendulkar ever did in ODIs, and 102 more than Virat Kohli), Rohit’s strokes are shorn of violence. Delicate yet dangerous, like a jellyfish.
On this World Cup tour so far, and it is still very early days (so early that India’s campaign is yet to begin), Rohit has been more delicate than dangerous. He has an easy tell to read when he is ripe for big runs, and that tell is Rohit going for his field-clearing shots early on in his innings.
In the two warm-up matches that India have played thus far, Rohit hit no sixes. And in this world unique only to him, this is incriminating evidence of lack of form. Worrying and somehow wonderful too, for it tells you just how phenomenal Rohit is when he enters his zone.
In the first warm-up game against New Zealand at the Oval, Rohit was out even before he could get his eye in, trapped leg before by Trent Boult. And in the second, against Bangladesh in Cardiff, he got his eyes in but not his hands. During his hour-long stay at the crease, he struck just one four in 42 balls; and that four too was due to a misfield.
But if he is looking for a fresh start then Southampton is just the venue for it, as Rohit has never played an ODI at the Hampshire Bowl. And given that he averages nearly 60 runs per ODI in all the other grounds in England and Wales, a World Cup in these isles could just be the need of the hour.
It is strange that a man who made his debut way back in 2007, and immediately made an impression with his ability, has only played one World Cup. In that 2015 edition he played out his entire career in a nutshell— one duck, four scores of below 20, two fifties and a big hundred —to finish the tournament in Australia and New Zealand with an identical average to that of his career’s, 47 point something.
Rohit will know that he needs to have a much more consistent tournament in 2019 for India to challenge for the trophy, mainly because of the spikes in the middle order. Kohli will depend on Rohit and Rohit’s long-time opening partner Shikhar Dhawan to provide solid starts; and to be in that form where he can be dependable, Rohit in turn depended upon the penultimate nets session before the opening game to find his groove.
When Rohit is flowing and not ebbing, time seems to slow down around him; in the nets today his rhythm is liquid. His bubble of Zen is pricked when a bouncer thrown at him from close range crunches into his gloves. Rohit flings his bat in the air and winces in pain. But he quickly slips back into his meditative state, for when Bangar’s sling-cup misses its landing and the ball zips towards him in the form of a beamer, he simply folds his left knee and casually flicks a six into the stands beyond fine leg.
In this sport, there aren’t too many prettier sights than that.