Rohit Sharma paces to perfection to finally end his overseas drought
Depending on how you look at it Rohit Sharma’s first Test century on foreign soil took him about five hours of actual game time, or the 23 hours or so that passed after he first took guard in the glaring late-afternoon sunshine towards the end of day two, or a little under eight years, since he made his debut as a 26-year-old against West Indies in Kolkata in November 2013. Whichever, it was another demonstration that in Test cricket you can never have too much patience, as Sharma will surely have reminded himself when he sent his 256th delivery, the first using the second new ball, steepling to long leg after top-edging a pull shot.
His first 50 had been the slowest of his Test career, taking all of 145 balls, a period of occasional runs but frequent walks. Every batsman develops their own method of mentally resetting between deliveries, and the 34-year-old’s is unusual not in the time he takes but in the distance he covers.
If not required to run Sharma turns to his left and sets off, eyes down, perhaps eight paces, a couple of pitch-widths, before turning back, performing a microscopic helmet adjustment, and retaking his guard. Eight paces out, eight paces back, repeat, repeat, repeat. It would be intriguing to know precisely how much distance he covers during his longer knocks but there are a variety of ways in which some of his innings can be described as marathons.
“Its not just that you come here and get a hundred. It’s never been like that for any batter. It’s a process and it takes time,” Sharma said after the close of play. “There will be a process, keep ticking the small boxes, and I was happy to do that. The most important thing, the most pleasing thing, was that I was able to play 250 balls. The first goal for me was to play balls, to see how I can stay on the pitch for as long as possible. I wasn’t thinking about scoring runs, it was about taking time, making sure I bat as long as possible. I was trying to follow the process. I know the runs will come if I follow the process.”
The point here is that Sharma’s pacing is not peripheral, he is not just passing time. His strolls are almost as essential to his accumulation of runs as the moments when he bring bat to ball, which perhaps England eventually worked out. For a while when Moeen Ali bowled in the afternoon Haseeb Hameed was positioned at short leg, the precise spot where Sharma ends his resetting strolls.
Now the batsman turned to his left, took four paces, and paused. Perhaps England had finally found a way to unsettle him, albeit momentarily. It did not help them, and over the course of three Moeen overs Hameed ended up performing a full 360-degree tour of the bat: short leg one moment, silly point the next, leg slip after that. Wherever he went, the ball didn’t.
With Cheteshwar Pujara, who came in after KL Rahul was astonished to find himself adjudged caught behind off Anderson in the morning, Sharma assembled what may well be the game’s defining partnership, at 153 runs not far off double the best that any other pair had mustered. He had been dropped twice by Rory Burns before they came together and floated the ball just wide of Chris Woakes at mid-on a few moments afterwards, but thereafter appeared in complete control as the pair wrestled the match away from England.
Meanwhile Pujara’s one moment of genuine discomfort before he too fell to the new ball was entirely self-inflicted, a turned ankle as he completed an unnecessary run as the ball sped to the boundary. Pujara is a man who refuses painkillers in the belief that they impact on his focus and studies boxers to discover new methods of dealing with discomfort, very much not the retired-hurt type. But both his sprinting and his scoring slowed thereafter, and having at that point made 21 off 30 it took him another 73 balls to complete his 50.
Sharma simply sped up to compensate. His second 50 took just 59 balls, the last of which was gleefully deposited into the stands. The batsman waved his bat at his dressing room, fist-bumped his partner and then turned to his left, and started to walk.