Exclusive - South African conditions not new, Indian cricketers ready for challenges: Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma, who captained India in the recently concluded T20 series against Sri Lanka, said that the players are ready for the challenging South Africa tour, starting January 5 next year. Excerpts from an exclusive interviewUpdated: Dec 28, 2017 11:12 IST
Following his exploits against Sri Lanka at home, Rohit Sharma is set to consolidate his career as a Test player during India’s tour of South Africa. In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Rohit spoke on topics ranging from leadership to improving as a batsman. Excerpts:
Having captained India against Sri Lanka, would you say leadership brings something extra out of you?
Every time you play for your country, there is responsibility. But when you are captaining, you can say so; you have to lead from the front and make sure the team follows the direction you want them to. For me, whenever I go out in the middle it is a responsibility; whether I am captain or a player.
Ahead of challenging assignments starting with the South Africa tour, do you think India have their bases covered?
Yeah, I think so. Most importantly, we have toured this place before with almost the same squad. We have to take it one tour at a time. We have a good pace attack and batting line-up.
There will be times in South Africa when we will be challenged as a team. We have to stand up to that. When you tour these places it is not easy, but again, we have been there, we know what to expect and that will give us a lot of confidence.
Does having less time to prepare for an overseas tour affect mentally?
I don’t think it will affect anyone mentally, but skill-wise we can say so. Ideally, anyone would like to have time to prepare well. But now we have to go ahead and do what is in front of us. We cannot do much about it.
Mentally, guys are ready for whatever lies ahead. Having played with them, I understand nobody thinks about all these things, it is about going out and doing what we need to do. There are things we control but things that are not in control, no point wasting time and energy into that. We know we have six days, we will try and make the most of it, whether it is two net sessions in a day or spending 4-5 hours in the field.
How well is the team prepared for pacer-friendly wickets?
South Africa is not going to be easy. It is not just India, any team which has been put on a pacy and bouncy track will struggle to score runs, it is the nature of the game. We have seen that in the Ashes, in that day-night Test at Adelaide everybody struggled except one or two batsmen. There can be such situations where one or two batsmen will bail you out.
That is the kind of challenge we want, to play on challenging pitches and conditions. So what if you fail as a team to deliver, there is always learning from that. We said before the start of the Sri Lanka Test series that we wanted to play on challenging pitches and Kolkata was a perfect start. We did not do well, but we got to learn so much. It was a good way to look at the South Africa tour.
South Africa have big names like Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, who are making comeback. Having gone through a long injury lay-off yourself, do you think there is additional pressure?
It is, because you will not feel the same like before getting injured. Steyn had a shoulder surgery, he is playing after almost an year… that is a long lay-off. (But) with his experience I do not think there will be a problem. Obviously, all eyes will be on him and de Villliers as they have not played much of late.
Who are the three bowlers India should be wary of?
Their bowling attack is the most challenging (one) in the world right now. Any home team tends to put a lot of pressure on the touring side. It will be (Kagiso) Rabada, Steyn, and one between (Vernon) Philander and (Morne) Morkel. They might play also an all-rounder like Chris Morris.
India’s tour is being described as the best chance to win in South Africa. Do you agree?
I agree because it is the best pace attack we have. We believe we can take 20 wickets. These 5-6 bowlers have played together for a number of years now, and are one of the reasons why we are No 1.
We have played at home but you still have to use the conditions to your advantage. We have lost only one Test this year, the consistency shows our bowlers have been able to take wickets. I don’t know how much of a role the spinners will have, but the fast bowlers need to step up.
What kind of mental preparation is needed for such a series?
You have to keep telling yourself the shots you play in India, you cannot outside. That has to start with practice; certain shots that you play, on the rise, cut or pull… on pitches with extra bounce in South Africa you have to keep telling yourself, ‘no, I cannot play the pull shot from that length’ or ‘cannot drive on the up’. You need to understand the pace of the pitch, there are a lot of things like that.
With India at the top in Test cricket, do you think teams will come extra hard?
Every team will be trying to achieve that spot, which means they will come hard, they will play their best… and we do not want to leave that spot. That is why this sport is interesting; everybody is competing for that. When teams go out they do not think about No 1 or 2, they go out to win. If you keep doing the right things, results will take care of themselves.
Test cricket is challenging, you don’t get results in one or two days. It is five days of hard-fought cricket. You have to be on your toes.
As a batsman, you rely on timing, do you want to add power-hitting as a new skill?
I am happy with the way I hit the ball. There is a certain element of power into it but not completely. It is like 80 per cent timing and 20 per cent power. Why do I need power hitting when I can clear the ropes with timing? The sixes I hit have crossed a decent distance; I don’t need to clear the stadium, just clear the rope. I try and get into the line of the ball and time it. That is my strength and I will stick to it.
You start slowly in ODIs and capitalize eventually. Do you think the same can be done for more runs in Test cricket?
I would love to do that in Test cricket as well. My strength is to try and dominate and take the game away from the opposition. Wherever I bat, I have to understand the conditions, respect the bowlers and see how I can be destructive. South Africa is not the easiest place to bat; the first 20-25 minutes can be challenging, but once you get your eye in, try and play your game.