Rohit Sharma is back and Pakistan should be worried about history repeating on New York's controversial pitch | Crickit
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Rohit Sharma is back and Pakistan should be worried about history repeating on New York's controversial pitch

Jun 06, 2024 10:29 AM IST

Rohit Sharma finished on 52, undefeated against Ireland. Pakistan will have taken note, Pakistan will be wary. As they should be.

After an exceptional start to IPL 2024, Rohit Sharma’s bat went cold during the middle phase. After 297 runs from seven innings came 52 in the next six. Maybe it had something to do with a lack of motivation, what with Mumbai Indians hurtling playing themselves out of contention for a playoffs berth, but the franchise’s deposed captain clearly wasn’t having the best of runs with the T20 World Cup imminent.

India's captain Rohit Sharma bats during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match against Ireland(AFP)
India's captain Rohit Sharma bats during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match against Ireland(AFP)

Rohit shrugged off the horrendous slump with a brilliant 38-ball 68 in perhaps his final innings for MI. Given how much emphasis Rohit places on leading from the front, it was a huge morale-booster in his final competitive outing before the World Cup. He wouldn’t have been down on confidence had he been saddled with another low score, but it’s always great to carry feel-good into a mega event.

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On Wednesday at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, Rohit extended his good recent run – he had made 23 in the warm-up game against Bangladesh at the same ground last Saturday – with an excellent half-century against Ireland, playing the lead batting role in his team’s eight-wicket victory. It was an innings notable for various reasons, not least because the big game against Pakistan looms on Sunday; it was a masterpiece in how to bat through the difficult periods on a tricky surface, bide one’s time and pick off the loose offerings bound to be on offer, no matter how experienced a bowling attack might be. Ireland aren’t the most experienced, of course.

‘Tricky’ is probably being generous to the drop-in pitch that made batting not just difficult but extremely demanding. Former Zimbabwe skipper Andy Flower said it bordered on the ‘dangerous’ and one can’t really argue with that assessment. The ball behaved as if it had a life of its own, whether it was one over old or 15; there was notable lateral movement, which isn’t unwelcome. But when it is coupled with uneven bounce, with the same spot producing stark contrasts in the height at which the ball reaches the batter, batting can become a lottery.

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Numerous deliveries spat from a good length, rapping batters on their knuckles. A few balls shot through on pitching, making life difficult for both sets of wicketkeepers. No one had a more tortured stay than Harry Tector, the Irish No. 4 who simply couldn’t get the ball off the square. He was struck painfully on his right thumb at least once as the ball got big without warning, and even the ball off which he was dismissed, from Player of the Match Jasprit Bumrah, climbed suddenly to defeat his pull, smash into his glove, hit his helmet and lob to Virat Kohli running in from cover.

It’s unlikely that, from his vantage position at mid-off, Rohit wouldn’t have noticed all this. He himself was defeated by the vagaries of the pitch in the first over of India’s modest quest of 97 from Mark Adair. On another day, he might have been dismissed for two, his optimistic waft bursting through the hands of Andy Balbirnie at second slip.

Rohit put it all behind him, knowing that he had the experience and the quality to score quickly if he didn’t overreach and push the envelope. The key to batting on a track like this is adaptability and subjugating one’s ego. ‘I will show you’ is never the way to go, no matter how celebrated a batter one might be. Rohit realised that early in the piece, and while he did try to manufacture a shot or two, it was always on the right side of the percentages even if he did miss.

Rohit didn’t go so much into his shell that he didn’t cash in on the opportunities that came his way. Singling out left-arm paceman Josh Little for special attention, he clattered a full toss over long-on for six, squeeze-drove a full ball outside off over point for four, then got on the bike and raced away when Little, back for a third spell, twice pitched short in succession. The first was taken from outside off and deposited over square-leg, the next dispatched finer, over long-leg, as the trademark Rohit pull made a spectacular appearance. An Adair full-toss, clubbed through mid-wicket, took him past fifty, but Rohit was to retire hurt almost immediately with a sore right shoulder, courtesy a blow to that part from a Little short ball, the ultimate vindication that this was a track on which it was impossible to feel ‘in’.

But hey, Rohit did finish on 52, undefeated. Pakistan will have taken note, Pakistan will be wary. As they should be.

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