With his ever-present 13-day stubble, Rohit Sharma stopped Kuldeep Yadav at the nets. It wasn’t about bowling, though; instead a long batting clinic was held, with Rohit often taking the left-hander’s stance and instructing Kuldeep, among other things, the bat flow. “Nah, na, utna high nahi, re (not that high)”, and he would shorten the bat-lift.
Around their bubble, the Indian cricketers were moving around doing their training, two days before the vital third Test against England. Away from them, the administrators were busy setting up signages and arrangements for Wednesday’s naming ceremony – the stadium will be named after the long-standing administrator Niranjan Shah, an impish man with a mischievous smile.
Once Kuldeep soaked up the nearly 20-minute tutorial, Rohit caught hold of Mohammad Siraj. This time, Siraj stood enrapt as Rohit seemingly discussed bowling plans. Ten minutes ticked by.
As Siraj went to bowl, Rohit turned around. Rahul Dravid strolled towards him. Now the coach, who had done his daily pitch-darshan. and the captain got engrossed in a 15-minute chat. Dravid would occasionally point to an imaginary field-setting on the off-side, with Rohit nodding away. Both would cast a glance at the batsmen in the nets and clap or yell a few words.
Dhruv Jurel, the wicketkeeper expected to debut in place of KS Bharat, had walked in with Sarfaraz Khan and Rajat Patidar. The trio and Jaiswal had a catching session with Jurel standing in as the ‘keeper in the main arena – the batting nets are outside, away from the main arena with at least 17 ready pitches. The city of Ranjitsinghji and Cheteshwar Pujara wouldn’t mess up in creating batting opportunities for players. Bharat batted in the adjacent net, when Jurel, with his bearded stoic face, went to bat. He had two sessions, largely facing throw downs.
In another nets, Sarfaraz, another likely debutant, was more relaxed. He wristed Kuldeep and Washington Sundar to the onside, before he got more adventurous. He would walk down the track or sweep; once he even pulled off a no-look late cut which got a few applause. But considering England will be testing him with bouncers, there was no effort to train for such an eventuality. Rohit applauded a sweet stretched-out extra-cover drive from Sarfaraz, who played some of those to spinners.
Eventually, when Rohit started to bat, a local net seamer surprised him. On consecutive balls, he lost his middle stump with a nip-backer and edged a ball outside off. He glanced at the bowler, who handled it professionally, picking his ball and walking back. As if it was just another day in his life.
Not every local bowler had a dreamy day, though. Another, a spinner, bowled only three balls – all leg-side full tosses, before a support staff gently asked him to drop the ball.
Time for runs
Those dismissals kicked up a thought on how Rohit the batsman needs to stand up as much as Rohit the captain in this game. He has got out in myriad ways: pulling a bouncer right into the trap, trapped lbw by the left-arm spinner Tom Hartley with a straight ball, glancing the debutant off-spinner Shoaib Bashir straight to leg slip, and a mute witness to a dreamy ball from James Anderson that straightened to take the off stump.
As a captain, he has been fully engaged, though a couple of calls raised eyebrows – like starting a post-tea session on the vital third day in the first Test not with his best bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin, but Axar Patel. Or the time he took to bring on Kuldeep Yadav in the second Test. Or how he seemingly denied his spinners who wanted a fielder to intervene Ollie Pope’s reverse sweeps in the first Test.
He has been clearing his lungs to get his teammates to show more intensity. The former England captain Michael Atherton had noted after the first Test how India lacked the intensity without Virat Kohli. The general impression was that Rohit is so involved in bowling tactics that at times the intensity fades out. He changed that dramatically in the second Test, giving twitterati a few viral gems when he shouted at his teammates in characteristic Rohit way. One about strolling in the garden stands out from the first innings of the second Test. In the second innings, he once yelled from the slip: “Tum logon ko bol-bolke mera gala hi bait gaya yaar (my voice is gone, reminding you all what to do on field)”.
Now in the third Test, he has to combine that passionate involvement on the field – tactically and as a rallying figure – but also show-off his batting skills. India needs Rohit the batsman and the captain, if they are to stop Bazball.