Rohit Sharma knew he needed to be proactive on the turning pitch rolled out for the second Test, and he prepared accordingly. Having been beaten in the first Test on a pitch that began to turn towards the end of the third day, India won the toss on one that turned from the first session and ended the day at 300 for 6 thanks largely to Sharma, who scored 161 of those runs.
“Look we knew about how the pitch was prepared,” Sharma said at the end of the day’s play. “We knew it was going to turn. So we had a good few training sessions before today. We trained according to what we were expecting in the middle. Basically using your feet much more, making sure you sweep the ball, and those kind of things.
“When you play on turning pitches, you have got to be proactive. You can’t be reactive. So getting on top of the bowler. Making sure you are ahead of him was very very crucial. So little adjustments based on that. And understanding if it is turning, how much it is turning, whether it is bouncing, whether it is keeping low. Those were the things I was thinking about before making any shot-making decisions. Mentally before the game I was prepared for what I was facing once I get in. The preparation really helped in terms of getting out there and playing the shot I want to play.”
He elaborated why he chose to play the sweep liberally, a shot he played only four times against Nathan Lyon in Australia.
“It was important to be proactive on a pitch like that when you know the ball is going to turn and the odd ball is going to keep low or it is going to bounce extra,” Rohit said. “Making sure that, before it is too late, you start doing what you want to do. And be clear in your mind. You can’t be tentative. You can’t have two thoughts. If you want to sweep, you sweep it. If you want to use your feet and play with the turn, you should be able to do that as well.
“What helped me is the preparation I had before the game. All I was trying to do is using the feet, playing with the turn, making sure I sweep the ball, understanding the line they are bowling. Moeen Ali especially, who was trying to bowl in the rough. There is little chance you get lbw [if you sweep from there]. Because I saw the fielder deep square leg was also back. Even if I top-edged it, it was going to land in a safe place. Those were the ideas and thoughts behind the plan I had today.
“Jack Leach was bowling stump to stump so it was important for me to use my feet, play with the turn, not with a straight bat facing towards him, but with the turn, slightly angled, making sure I pushed the ball between covers and point. And rotating the strike was also important, which I think we did really well.”
In fact, Sharma suggested to Ajinkya Rahane that he too play the sweep to counter the extravagant turn from outside off.
“When we were playing the qucks, Ajju told me to stand outside the crease,” Sharma said. “I also told him it is a good option to sweep because he had played a couple of balls in the air towards short midwicket. It is a percentage shot on this pitch with the bowler bowling wide outside off.”
There was a time when despite winning the toss India were in the danger of handing the advantage over, but from 86 for 3, Sharma and the under-fire Rahane added 162 for the fourth wicket to take India to what Sharma believes is an imposing total.
“Ajinkya is one of our top players,” Sharma said. “He has done extremely well. Played some crucial knocks. He has proved his worth time and again when the team has needed him. Even today our partnership was crucial. We had lost three wickets before lunch. When he came out to bat, it was a crucial time. We had to build a partnership.
“We have seen often that when the team needs runs, he has shown his batsmanship and scored difficult runs. I don’t understand why there is debate around him. Anyway, the knock was important for the team as was our partnership. We have brought the team into a comfortable position: 350 on this wicket will be a very good score. We still have four wickets in hand. We hope we get more from Pant and Axar. We know this pitch will take a lot of turn from second day onwards. There are a lot of rough patches too.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.