Rohit Sharma hooked on, and trips up again in Lord's Test
England’s fastest bowler Mark Wood is on the top of his run-up. Rohit Sharma is taking guard. Wood has a spring in his stride after dismissing KL Rahul. England have realised there isn’t much swing on offer and the speedster has been brought on first change quite early with a short-ball plan. Joe Root knows the Indian openers are the ones amongst the runs and there is a low-on-confidence middle order to follow. If the new ball does the trick, it can potentially rip the match open for the home side.
England moves a fielder from backward point to deep square leg. Sharma knows what’s coming. In that over, he’s already pulled Wood once to the stands—perfect transfer of weight to all round applause. There is no deceit in what England want to do with three men back. Wood dares Sharma to go for it again. He does, but this time Wood’s bouncer is a shade higher and into his body. Even before the waiting Moeen Ali laps it up at deep square Sharma knows he has failed to execute his favourite shot. He’s walking back ruefully looking at the bottom edge of his bat, with India two wickets down and India yet to take the lead.
This is the fifth instance of Sharma being dismissed playing a pull or hook shot in Tests. “If I see the ball in my area, I have to play the shot. That's my shot. I have got runs playing that shot,” he had said after the first Test where too he holed out in the deep. He could well say that again. But was it in his area? Did the match situation require him to play differently? This was the third bumper in the over, and between his six and getting out, he did duck under one. Sharma has been a transformed Test player since he began to open. A sharp reader of the game, he may well decide to curb his instincts in future.
It could well be that he sticks to his guns. Not for bravado but in continuing to believe that for him it’s a productive shot. “You got to be ready to play your shots as well because their bowlers are so disciplined, you hardly get anything. So, you have to put the balls (away) which are your shots and, in your area,” he said in Trent Bridge.
There’s no doubt the shot belongs to him. A Cricinfo analysis shows that between 2015-20 no batsman struck more sixes (116) off the pull across formats than Sharma. His strike-rate when he pulls is a staggering 274.91, which is also the best among all batsmen to score 500-plus runs.
One could thus argue that for Sharma it is just another shot like an off-drive against the out-swinger is for some batsman. After all, he belongs in the all-time top-ten list of Test openers with the best average (61.25) after 22 innings. They would have used the short-pitched ball against him from time to time.
In this series though, it hasn’t proved to be very productive. In 10 pulls or hooks, Sharma has delivered 2 sixes, 2 fours and 2 dismissals, according to CricViz. Not worth the risk for rewards in England. Not with the form he is in. “Rohit has made it clear that it is a shot that he fetches him runs. And we are backing him. It’s only that you could be more selective. We will be having those conversations,” batting coach Vikram Rathore said post-match.
It’s a fine line. It didn’t matter when he mistimed a pull on 212 against South Africa in 2019. But then if you have the ability to reach a double in Test cricket, you could well pick and choose the right moments.