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Match Analysis

Abhishek Sharma's territory is expanding

The opener has a reputation for being a basher but in Harare he showed that he has more gears to his game

Ekanth
07-Jul-2024
The risks attached to Abhishek Sharma come with the territory. Four-ball duck? Part of the territory. Three sixes to bring up a hundred next day? Territory. Eight dots in the first 20 balls? Well, that's potentially a sign of the territory expanding.
Abhishek earned his spot in India's T20I side after blowing the roof off of IPL 2024, where he made 484 runs at a strike rate of 204. That included 42 sixes in 16 innings and 78 boundaries in 237 balls. Also, none of his innings lasted for over 28 balls.
You know what you will get with Abhishek. It's hit that puts all hitting to shame or, you know, that dreaded miss. It's a dynamic that's inherent to T20s, one that India are trying to take in their stride, to adapt to the changing demands of a fickle format and strip away the conservatism that stunted previous generations.
The seniors who won the T20 World Cup a week ago had to do a lot of work and cope with a lot of failure before things fell into place. The youngsters who have come in now don't carry such baggage, but also can't afford to be binary.
The test Abhishek was put to at Harare demonstrated why. The pitch was far from an IPL featherbed, he didn't have Travis Head at the other end or Heinrich Klaasen in the wings, and India were trailing 0-1 after failing to chase 116 in the first game.
While he duly deposited the first legal ball he faced out of the ground, he couldn't just keep swinging, not after Shubman Gill fell early. Not with Blessing Muzarabani and Tendai Chatara hitting hard lengths and extracting sideways movement.
Abhishek was beaten trying to nudge the ball and trying to belt it, but he wriggled out of trouble by running hard and turning the strike. He saw an opportunity to pounce when Luke Jongwe was brought into the attack in the eighth over, and that should have got him out for 27. Instead, Wellington Masakadza put down a catch.
Abhishek carried on with the newfound freedom of a survivor. "After that [drop] I thought it was my day," he said at the post-match presentation. "[I felt] I should take a bit of responsibility". He did that by picking his targets. "Rutu[raj Gaikwad] was saying that it was a bit difficult to hit the fast bowlers, so we have to be a bit mindful. I felt that he was making sense. So, if you see, I didn't play much shots to [Jongwe]. Just tried to get to the other end. That helped a lot."
Sikandar Raza brought himself on for the ninth over and he is a far cry from the traditional fingerspinner. When he skidded one slightly short, it was more like a seamer bowling a cutter on good length. But Abhishek pulled it away with a swift load-up and fast hands through the ball. Proactivity took over the next ball as Abhishek, expecting an adjustment in length, charged down and lifted Raza over extra cover.
Maybe another day, he would try to launch the next ball too. At 71 for 1 in 9.2 overs, India were in need of big hits and had the resources to go for them but Abhishek was happy to hold fire. For now.
He didn't have to wait long as Raza replaced himself with Dion Myers. Myers started with a wide to Gaikwad but a half-stop by the keeper brought Abhishek on strike. Abhishek pulled the next bouncer to deep square leg for a single but an overthrow resulted in Abhishek retaining strike and carnage got a long-awaited call: 26 runs in five boundaries to five different areas. Three mis-hits, one ball out of the ground, T20 in excelsis. Abhishek on a joyride. He got to his hundred with three back-to-back sixes, prompting comparisons with Rohit Sharma at the post-match press conference.
"Sixer king?" he replied, "If you look at me, you wouldn't think I'm one. Special mention to my dad. A lot of kids' coaches don't allow players to play big shots, but he always told me that if I'm playing a lofted shot, it should go out of the boundary. So since childhood, I've felt that if I can execute a confirmed shot, then I just want to go and express myself even if it's the first or the second ball.
"My mindset today was like the one I had in the IPL and domestic cricket. It was all about the execution. It was better than yesterday. As a batter, I thought about all the balls I played, it wasn't many, and I was calculating the risk I should take on the first over or if I should just play according to the ball. I think that execution went really well today."
Abhishek raced from 41 off 30 to 100 off 47, the joint third-fastest hundred for India in T20Is.
This innings in isolation probably doesn't outline the template in which Abhishek will construct an innings. He won't always have weak links in opposition bowling attacks to pounce on, and even if he makes the same choices from a same situation in a future game, he might not get second chances. Zimbabwe dropped him twice and when they thought they had him, he used DRS to keep going.
What it did show was a batter adapting to conditions and situations, while not going into a shell. That's pretty much what India would have dreamed for while sending future stars to learn on the job.

Ekanth is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo