July 29, 2012

Temperament lets Rohit down

Rohit Sharma makes batting look easy, but five years since his debut, he is yet to arrive in international cricket

In 2007 Rohit Sharma burst onto the Indian cricket scene as a young player with immense potential destined for bigger things in life. When on song, he's been a delight to watch, for his languid movement makes batting look ever so easy. Traditionally, there are a three 'T's to judge a young batsman - the first is Talent, which is the inherent or acquired ability to pick the line and length of the ball a lot earlier than many, which in turn allows the body to get into the right position to play a shot.

If we were to simplify batting, the crux of it is to always be in a position to receive the ball. The earlier you are there, the more the options you have to deal with the ball. On the contrary, if you're still on the move when the ball arrives, there's very little that you can do with it. Rohit Sharma ticks this box quite easily, for he seems to have all the time in the world to deal with even the quickest bowlers who don't trouble him much.

The second T, though slightly misunderstood, is the Technical prowess. While there is always the copybook way of playing every stroke, it isn't necessary to follow the written rules all the time, for different players develop different techniques to not only survive but also thrive. Still a strong technical base, if married with discipline, ensures consistency.

Even though there were a few glitches in his technique like the head falling towards the off-side in the stance, as it is with most players early on, his basics were pretty much in place. It is his minimalistic feet movement which ensures that he's rarely off-balance and so his timely weight transfer produces that elusive timing. Another box successfully ticked.

Obviously there's a lot going for Rohit in both the talent and technique department, which also explains, to a certain extent, the faith reposed in him by the captain and the team management. To his credit, he did turn a new leaf in 2011 when he started converting attractive cameos into match-winning performances by batting the bulk of the overs at his disposal.

But it's the third T - the Temperament - that has let him down, once again. Not surprisingly, it happens a lot with people who are talented because everything seems to be far too simple to them. Temperament is a sum of many character traits like discipline, controlling the impulse, rational response to pressure etc., developed over a period of time, which needs awareness and knowledge of your own craft. Since most of the times the only thing such talented players need to do to score is to just turn up for the match, they tend to underestimate the importance of processes and structures.

Someone lesser talented would always have the blueprint for each innings, as structuring the innings correctly is imperative to their success. Rohit doesn't seem to understand the need to avoid playing high-risk shots at the beginning of the innings or the value of consciously moving his feet slightly quicker in certain conditions or during bad phases. He was guilty of slashing outside the off-stump early on in the innings only to nick it to the wicketkeeper many-a-times in Australia. Shot-selection is as important as the ability to play those shots, since each time you pick the wrong ball or the wrong moment to play that shot, you're doomed.

His batting, as one of my friends put it, swings between 'wow' and 'how'. When he pulls off those impossible shots, you admire in awe and then when he throws away his wicket to reckless shots, you wonder about the futility of his talent.

In the first two matches in Sri Lanka, he was late on the ball and gave the impression of being a tad lazy. He doesn't have a trigger movement to get his body in motion and, perhaps, he could have introduced it in Sri Lanka to avoid being late on the ball. Obviously, he isn't a lazy player, but his movements devoid of any urgency give that impression.

Arrogance is one of the likely offspring of success, ironically leading to the collapse of the very success it was made of. Rohit has had the tendency of getting too far ahead of himself, which results in his dismissal in the most unexpected manner. He may have nicked the previous ball towards slip that fell short of the fielder at slip, but that doesn't prevent him from not attempting the same shot off the very next delivery. His batting, as one of my friends put it, swings between 'wow' and 'how'. When he pulls off those impossible shots, you admire in awe and then when he throws away his wicket to reckless shots, you wonder about the futility of his talent.

When the going is good, Rohit finds gaps where others find fielders; he delays his shots when others get hurried. However, in 2012, a good five years since he made his international debut, he's still considered as someone with potential and not as someone who's finally arrived. It tells us, as it did in Vinod Kambli's case, that talent can take you only so far, beyond which it's the temperament that takes precedence.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here