Rohit Sharma seemed soundproof to the applause when he was walking back to the pavilion. Eyes down, shoulders arched, he dragged his heat-weary limbs, not even reciprocating a thud on his shoulder by the incoming Hardik Pandya, he walked, as if he was in a world of his own.
For nearly 70 minutes and 41 balls, he was batting in a world of his own. When his colleagues scratched and scraped on a slowish surface Rohit purred along. He made the same pitch feel like sprawling, six-lane highway without potholes. Or put it the other way, Rohit could spin his Ferrari even on a paddy-field. His 72 runs were stroked at a strike rate of 175; none of his teammates who faced more than 10 balls, could manage a hitting rate of more than 130.
His lack of runs in the Indian Premier League and the T20 World Cup were misconstrued as a fallibility of playing on slow tracks. The common refrain—he prospers on tracks where the ball comes onto the bat but struggles when it does. Once, he himself has funnily quipped to a journalist: “What do you mean by the ball not coming onto the bat? I can never understand this. If the ball does not come to the batsman, the batsman should go for the ball.” He went out for the ball this innings.
Leading from the front, Captain @ImRo45 brings up a fine FIFTY off 32 deliveries 👏👏
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 6, 2022
The slowness of the pitch was captured by a stroke that Rohit timed rather than he did not. Ashita Fernando had erred on the shorter side but Rohit had to wait for an eternity for the ball in the pulling pose; the ball arrived so late that he ended up hooking it, his body making a 360-degree turn in the follow through. His ability to pause his stroke to hit the ball at the most precise moment was remarkable. There was another, a rather humdrum shot, that he wonderfully adjusted though he was early into the stroke. He premeditated a slog-sweep against Chamika Karunaratne, realised he was a fraction early, and hence delayed the bat-swing so that he fully times it.
It’s a skill that only the best of athletes and dancers do. Lionel Messi does this when he hangs for the ball in the air; so does Roger Federer with his forehand returns. Geniuses have a sense of space and time that is beyond the reach of the commoner.
Rohit has a dancer’s feet too, a reason he makes the least minimalistic of shots look minimalistic. Like when he essayed a sweep off Ashita Fernando. He languidly shuffled across, slouched his lower body and just twirled the ball behind fine leg. A lot of batsmen make a lot of complicated movements to play this stroke. But not Sharma. He just makes three-four tiny, snapping movements—one-two-three, or ta-tei-tei-ta, or rat-a-tat. The harmony of limb movements has a balletic grace.
The loose wrists enable placement. The top hand remains static, provides stability, while he twirls the bottom hand to whip the ball, generating the requisite elevation and momentum, besides making optimal use of the bowlers’ pace. His batting is pure dance; even his best T20 knocks could transcend time and place.
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 6, 2022
Leg-spinners are supposedly his nemesis. Wanindu Hasaranga is one of the best in the T20 business. But when Rohit sets his mind on hitting him, and when his feet begin to not just obey him, but sense what he would do, he could be unstoppable against them. Hasaranga tried to plot his dismissal with leg-breaks than his usual staple of googlies. But Rohit busted the threat by shimmying, sashaying and often gliding down the surface. He struck him for a brace of sixes in an over. Between the twos sixes was a four through extra-cover, an instance when his wrist-work was pure art. He reached to the pitch of the ball and when his bat made contact with the ball, he flicked his wrists to open the bat face a touch and guide it to the left of the fielder.
It was an innings wherein he swept more frequently. Sweep is an understated but productive stroke on slow wickets. There is no fear of the ball bouncing awkwardly, sucking the risk out of the shot. Sachin Tendulkar was a masterful sweeper on slow pitches too. Like Tendulkar, Rohit has this preternatural ability to gauge a surface rapidly and make the requisite adjustments. And on Tuesday, in a must-win match, he made those adjustments better and faster than most. He was truly in a world of his own.