Rohit Sharma overcomes injury scare, keeps pulling
The pull shot has led to dismissals but the India captain didn’t give up on it even after getting hit.
Around 11:30 am, Rohit Sharma walked into India’s optional nets, expecting nothing more than a workout. Throwdown specialists and bowlers lined up accordingly and Sharma started as he does on the field, aiming to find the sweet spot. Within 10 minutes though, he was hit on the forearm by a rearing delivery. Grimacing in pain, Sharma walked out of the nets clutching his forearm, sending the sizeable Indian media contingent camping outside the nets into a tizzy.
It was a shorter ball alright, but maybe Sharma was done in by the movement that cramped him for space. D Raghavendra, or Raghu as he is popularly known within the team, is adept at testing batters with fast, short balls with the dog-thrower. His freakishly strong arm, coupled with the dog-thrower, generates just the kind of pace you need to rehearse against if you are about to play an England side that has Mark Wood clocking 150 kph and above regularly. In South Africa and Australia thus, Raghu is nothing short of an asset.
This ball didn’t perhaps go according to plan. But injuries are part and parcel of this regimen. Sharma walked out of the nets, got medical attention before trying to bat again. One ball and Sharma was off again. He was clearly in discomfort. This could have gone either way but Sharma was ready to bide his time. For the next forty minutes, he sat on an ice chest with an icepack tied to his arm, occasionally checking his forearm and trying to fist his fingers. Mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton sat alongside him and chatted. Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik came up to him at different times. Raghu had stopped sending throwdowns, walking about nervously.
Only after about 40 minutes did Sharma glove up, return to his nets and start batting again. A punch through point, a laidback drive, another gentle nudge and he was back at it, again going for the pull shot. Raghu was back in business as well, and with no change in the lengths too. Nets usually start with the bowler coming up to the batter and explaining the imaginary field placed for him—six on the off; one slip, one point, two in covers, a third man and one in the deep apart from three on the on-side. Batters go for strokes keeping in mind this field in all honesty. That Sharma didn’t budge from pulling was ample proof that he wasn’t regretting his dismissals. Or even thinking about curbing the pull shot.
On the outside though—to you and me—it may seem like a growing concern. This is how Sharma has been dismissed in the World Cup so far: caught at slip (Pakistan), caught at deep midwicket (Netherlands), caught and bowled off the pull (South Africa), caught off the uppercut at backward point (Bangladesh) and caught at square-leg (Zimbabwe). Barring his dismissal against Pakistan—where he was tentative to the leaving ball—Sharma played or at least tried to play a shot. It is another matter that the ball either didn’t connect or didn’t clear the rope, which has been the case for many batters in the big venues of Australia.
But is that grounds for a late adjustment to his batting approach? Hardly. The pull has been Sharma’s bread-and-butter shot. And no one can pull quite like him. There is a staid preamble to all his pull shots—a still head, just the right swivel on the go, quick eyes and finally a quicker whiplash that almost always dissects the fielders to clear the boundary. That chronology hasn’t been on point in Australia this time, either because of the pace off the pitch or the lengths of the boundaries. But they are attacking shots mind you.
It’s a double-edged sword that is par for the course because the pull shot fetches runs by the buckets but can also be a massive giveaway to any bowler who knows how to work around the bouncer. But Sharma’s predilection for the pull can’t be an excuse to limit his range in T20 cricket.
It’s a risk but a calculated one, befitting a team trying to play fearless cricket. From a more practical context, if openers don’t take risks when the field is up, the innings can never start on a promising note. High risk-high reward batting strategies often hinge on risks like this. Sharma can’t back away from it, not when it is clear KL Rahul and Virat Kohli have been allowed the wiggle room of a few more deliveries. If Suryakumar Yadav is the designated free spirit of this batting line-up, someone from the top-three has to set the tempo. In that scenario, the pull becomes Sharma’s go-to release shot. Curtail that and India can fall into a rut that even Yadav may not be able to lift the innings out of.