Rohit Sharma: 'First goal was to play balls, stay on the pitch for as long as possible'

Cheteshwar Pujara congratulates Rohit Sharma on his century
September 04, 2021

He would no doubt agree that his maiden overseas Test century carried a lot of "value", but the most significant takeaway for Rohit Sharma from the fourth Test, in fact the first four Tests of the Pataudi Trophy, is the fact that he has managed to play out maximum time and maximum balls. That, Rohit said, has been the primary goal and the basis of his success as a Test opener, a journey that started in 2019.

The 256 balls Rohit played in the second innings of the Oval Test was the third-most by an India opener this century in England, only behind Rahul Dravid and Murali Vijay. With another Test remaining in the series Rohit can eye the record of the most balls faced in a series by an India opener in England: currently, having faced 856 deliveries, he is third on the all-time list, behind Sunil Gavaskar (1979) and Vijay (2014).

"Most pleasing thing was that I was able to play 250 balls," Rohit said in the media briefing on Saturday. "If you look at all the Test matches [this series] I have nearly played 100 balls in every innings. That to me was a goal. The first goal was to play balls, see how I can stay on the pitch for as long as possible because we do know that things start to get easier when you spend time in the middle, when you see what the bowlers are doing and get the hang of it and get the feel of the entire situation. Spending time in the middle was the biggest takeaway for me in the four Test matches."

Right through this England trip, which started with the World Test Championship final in June against New Zealand, Rohit has looked the most settled India batter, threatening to convert the starts into something big. Rohit already had two half-centuries in seven innings against England, including 83 in the first dig at Lord's. But he had to swallow his disappointment and applaud his opening partner KL Rahul, who notched a first-innings century, setting the tone for India's memorable Lord's victory.

Here it was the turn of Rahul to stand alongside the packed Oval crowd after Rohit effortlessly lofted a six to bring up his century. While his celebrations were muted and restricted to just waving a bat, Rohit acknowledged it was a special innings. "It holds a lot of value. You are playing in testing conditions, against quality bowling line-up. Obviously when you do well against that you always feel good. I knew when I came here from the World Test Championship final, I knew I have to put in the best effort with bat however I can, whatever it takes - you know I don't mind looking ugly at times with whatever I do with the bat as long as I get the job done for the team."

In reality, Rohit the opener has been anything but ugly. He has shown far more discipline and patience and looked more confident than any other India batter. That has come from hours spent in training sessions where Rohit's solitary focus has been to read lengths, leave balls and understand where his off stump is. That is what Rohit calls the process.

"It is not just, you come here and get a hundred. It has never been like that," he said. "It is a process and it takes time. We need to understand that. When you are playing overseas it is never easy. When I started opening I knew all those big scores are not going to just happen. There will be a process I will need to follow, keep ticking the small boxes and that's something I did when I started opening batting.

"When you play cricket all over the year, those little adjustments you should be able to make [are] based on the situation, based on the conditions, and [based on the] position of your batting as well. You can't just come and play shots especially in a place like England. You need to understand situation of the game, certain type of bowlers, considering all that together, there were little adjustments that I had to make and I was happy to do it. It's a good process. It is a very enjoyable process. Most importantly I trusted whatever I was doing. I knew the results will come, rewards will happen, but it might take time. It's just that you need to be patient. I was very patient."

It was on India's tour of the West Indies in 2019 where the team management spoke for the first time about Rohit opening. Having struggled to find consistency as a middle-order batter, Rohit opened for the first time in the home series against South Africa. He made a stunning and memorable statement, recording twin centuries in his maiden appearance as a Test opener and bookended that South Africa series with a maiden Test double-century.

Importantly, Rohit's success and experience have contributed to India's opening combinations withstanding new-ball pressure from the opposition, and that was also seen in the final two Tests of the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy where Rohit and Shubman Gill stayed solid in Sydney and Brisbane. Looking back at the South Africa series, Rohit agreed that personally he took that assignment as a "last opportunity".

"I wanted to think, in a way, this is it - I have to make good use of this opportunity and for that, whatever it takes, I have to do it. You need to bring a lot of stuff into your batting: most importantly discipline. That is something I focused on a lot, on [and] off the field. When you are in the nets discipline is something I wanted to bring into my batting, whether it is about leaving the ball, solid, tight defence and all of those things. When you play in these conditions, all those things matter."

That patience and discipline is what has kept Rohit hungry despite him taking 47 innings - the second-longest by an Indian - to make his first overseas century. "Getting a hundred, whether it is overseas or at home, it's always a good feeling," Rohit said. "That is what all batters try for: getting those big runs and making sure you always try and put the team in good position. [Getting an] overseas hundred was not on my mind. What I was focusing on was the process. If I follow the process, if I believe whatever I'm doing during my practice sessions, I know results will come, you will be rewarded. Sometimes things might not come easy and you need to put in the hard yards."

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