Rohit Sharma Brings ‘Sweep’ Timing Into Play for Big Century

Rohit Sharma scored 161 on Day 1 of the Chennai Test against England.

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Cricket
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Rohit Sharma scored 161 on Day 1 of the Chennai Test against England.
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No India batsman over the last 10 years has taken a top Test side's bowling apart in the first session of a Test as Rohit Sharma did against England on Saturday, though Shikhar Dhawan had hit an unbeaten 104 in the first session on the first day of the one-off Test against Afghanistan in 2018.

Sharma smashed 80 off the 106 runs his team had scored on a pitch that provided prodigious turn from the first session of the second Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

When Sharma reached his century, in the 42nd over, India had still not touched 150-run mark, and by the time he reached 150, India were 230. At the time of his dismissal as the fourth wicket, Sharma had hit 161 of India's 248. India eventually scored 300 for six wickets at 3.4 runs an over on the first day of the second Test.

Pace-wise, it was like a Virender Sehwag knock, in approach it was different -- there were no aerial shots, and plenty of sweep shots, something Indians didn't use much in the first Test. Sehwag had played a similarly dominant knock to shut out Sri Lanka in Galle in 2008, scoring 201 out of India's first innings score of 329.

"When you play on turning pitches, you've got to be proactive and can't be reactive. Being on top of the bowler and making sure you are ahead of him was very, very crucial," said Sharma after the end of the day's play.

“We knew how the pitch was prepared. We knew it would turn. So we had a few good training sessions and trained according to what we were going to expect in the middle...using your feet a lot more and making sure you sweep the ball. Mentally, I was prepared before the game what I would be facing once I get in.”
Rohit Sharma

Sharma played many sweep shots, negating the rough that off-spinner Moeen Ali tried to exploit. Over one-fourth of his boundaries were off the sweep shots.

Ali, who was brought in for Dom Bess, dismissed India captain Virat Kohli and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, getting both bowled. While Kohli's defences were breached by one turned into him sharply from the rough on the off side as he tried to carve Ali through extra cover against the spin, Rahane was beaten while attempting a sweep shot.

Neither could apply the sweep, at least as well as Sharma did.

Apart from those two dismissals, Ali had a nightmarish outing as Sharma gave a masterclass to all on how to approach a bowler who uses the rough well. Ali had previously troubled India in Tests in England.

"I have seen Moeen Ali bowl a lot. He actually bowls very well in the rough and sweep shot is something that can frustrate a bowler if you are playing that shot really well. If you play that shot, there is not much the bowler can do from there," explained Sharma.

Sharma said the sweep, where you trying to connect the ball from the rough, took the pitch out of the equation.

"I thought it was a safer option to take because both fielders square were on the boundary. If it was top-edged, it was going to fall in the safe place," added Sharma.

"I thought it was a percentage shot as well because he was bowling outside the off-stump so LBW wouldn't have come into play. There was the odd ball he was bowling at the stumps against which I used my feet and tried to cover the spin and reach the ball."

Sharma was heard telling Rahane 'aada khel', roughly translating into playing the sweep shot against spinners even as Rahane himself advised him to stand outside the crease against pace bowlers.

The two added 162 runs for the fourth wicket.

"We have played a lot together so we understand each other. We were chatting constantly. That is why that partnership grew," said Sharma.

"When we were playing seamers, Ajju (Ajinkya Rahane) told me to stand in front [of the crease] like he was. When we played the spinners -- I was sweeping the spinners from the rough -- I also told him to use sweep because it takes away the LBW option. Two-three balls he played, they had gone in the air a bit. I told him then that sweep would be a better option. It is a percentage shot on that pitch."

The preparation helped, said Sharma.

"The preparation I had before the game helped, all I was trying to do, using the feet, playing with the turn, understanding the line they were bowling. Rotating strike was also important because it doesn't allow the bowler to settle," he said.

Sharma was on way to a double century at the venue where Sehwag had scored his career-best 319 against South Africa in 2008, the same year in which he later hammered Ajantha Mendis & Co in Galle, Sri Lanka.

But that wasn't to be. Sharma lived by the sweep and then fell by the sweep holing out to Moeen Ali in deep square leg off Jack Leach.

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