Rohit: 'There was no lapse of concentration; we wanted to bat in a different way'

June 11, 2023

Both in 2021 and 2023, India went into the final day of the World Test Championship final with hope of crossing the winning line. On both occasions they faltered as their batting succumbed to incisive spells of fast bowling, and could last barely more than a session.

In the rain-hit 2021 final, played in front of a restricted crowd due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India started the reserve day at 64 for 2. With Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in, and Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant and R Ashwin still to bat, India - 32 ahead at the beginning of the day - would have fancied putting up a challenging target. But they would be bundled out for 170 an hour after lunch, allowing New Zealand enough time to get to the target of 139.

At The Oval on Sunday morning, India, chasing 444, needed a further 280 runs with Kohli and Rahane having made promising starts. India's approach was bold right from the start of the chase, with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill pulling and punching with gusto, as if it were an ODI. Pujara, too, scored at a fair clip. Even the fall of Rohit and Pujara in quick succession had not deterred them, with Kohli and Rahane taking the baton and tucking into bed with dreams of glory.

On day five, both Kohli and Rahane ended up playing at balls they would have usually left alone. If you add Rohit's decision to sweep as soon as Nathan Lyon came on to bowl and Pujara's call to go for an uppercut moments later to those dismissals, it all added up to four of the best batters in modern Test cricket playing questionable shots.

Were they loose shots? Rohit broadly agreed, but he would not apologise for India's aggressive approach. "We didn't bat well - even this morning, there were a few loose shots by the batters and because of that we couldn't reach the target," Rohit said after the game.

"[But] our message to the boys has been to play freely - if it's there to be hit, go for it; it's a simple message. Whether it is Test cricket or T20 cricket or ODI cricket, we should not play under pressure. If you look at the way we started in the second innings, Gill and me, the plan was to play positively and put the pressure back on them. That's why we were probably 60 in ten overs but if you play with that mindset, then chances are that you will get out as well. When that happens, these lapses-of-concentration comments come in. [But] it is not that; we wanted to play in a different way."

Such an open-minded approach is in contrast to India's batting mindset in the 2021 WTC final when Kohli, Rohit's predecessor, had said his batters had not taken enough risks to challenge New Zealand's bowlers. Rohit said he wouldn't be too critical of his players as a majority of them have been part of teams that have won Tests in England in 2021 in the Pataudi Trophy, when India led 2-1 after four Tests before Covid forced the postponement of the final game, and also in the twin series victories in Australia when India won the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on successive tours, 2018-19 and 2020-21.

'Everybody prepared really well in the little time that we had,' says Rohit

Rohit did agree that experienced players failed to make a difference in this match. "Look, I don't want to be too critical about it because when we were here last time, a lot of the senior batters actually put their hand up and got us ahead in the series," Rohit said. "I mean things like this can happen. We have had really good outings in the last two years, whether we played in Australia or England. But in one-off games, if you are mentally not there, you can lose a game and that is exactly what happened.

"We honestly wanted to give it our best shot. Everybody prepared really well in the little time that we had. That is all you can do and that is all you can hope for whatever time you have in hand: to prepare well and get ready for the game. But when you have, in your top 5 or 6, batters who are quite experienced in these conditions, and they couldn't go on to get big runs - that is what probably cost us the game."

Rohit pointed to Travis Head and Steven Smith's 285-run partnership for the fourth wicket in the first innings, which put Australia in the ascendancy, as something that was missing for India. "What happened in the opposition camp is two of their fighters got big runs and got them in the position from where they can fight. And that is what was required from our side as well: a couple of batters, putting their hands up and getting those big runs and getting close to their target. That didn't happen."

But Rohit was clear he did not find anything wrong with India's batting approach, especially during the chase on a pitch that was easier to bat on than an average fifth-day Test pitch. "When certain guys play in a certain way, I don't think it's a lapse of concentration. Sometimes you want to be ahead of the game, you want to take the bowlers on. Test cricket is being played in a different way these days and that's how we want to play as well.

"And it was a good pitch. You could play the shots that you wanted to. Of course, keeping in mind if somebody is bowling a really good spell, you try to respect that, but otherwise you have to try to do something different to break the bowler's rhythm.

"And that is what Travis Head did. He came and played some shots and he really got them out of that discomfort zone where, after lunch, we got a wicket [of Marnus Labuschangne on day one] in the second over, first ball. We really thought we were quite in the game [after that wicket]. And then the way Travis Head came and played, he completely took the game away from us and that is what we want to do as well.

"When you know the pitch is good, sometimes you have to let your instinct take those calls in the middle. I don't think it was a concentration lapse or anything like that. It's just sometimes guys feel that they're comfortable playing certain shots and they are allowed to go and play those shots."

India's global-title drought: Rohit wants to 'do things differently' at 2023 World Cup

Since winning the 2013 Champions Trophy in England, India have lost four knockout games in global tournaments on the trot in the country: the 2017 Champions Trophy final to Pakistan, the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final to New Zealand, and the two WTC finals. On all four occasions their batting came up short.

With India now getting ready to host the 50-over World Cup later this year, Rohit said he would want his team to aim to do things "differently". "We want to do something different. We have played a lot of ICC tournaments and we have not won, so the intention is to play in a different way and try something different.

"When the World Cup happens in October, our plan will be to play a different brand of cricket and try something different. We don't want to think about winning this or think that this match is important or that match is important. For the last eight-nine years we have been thinking the same way - that this match is important or this event is important, and it's not happening for us. So we have to think differently and do things differently. Our message and focus will be on trying to do things differently."

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