Hindustan Times (Jammu)

Rohit Sharma’s Team India needs to stamp its authority

- Somshuvra Laha somshuvra.laha@htlive.com

England have been beaten but they are far from broken. And that’s what makes this victory such a baffling contradict­ion for Rohit Sharma. There was no spectacula­r batting dominance, no seamless passing of the baton with every batter ratcheting up the scoring rate while tiring out inexperien­ced spinners and no swashbuckl­ing knock from Sharma or Shreyas Iyer. Which has only added to a lingering uneasiness because Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill are still young and raw.

Catches weren’t missed but that didn’t make the fielding scintillat­ing, partly because Sharma was averse to pressing more close-in fielders into the England batters’ face despite sitting on a massive lead. Mukesh Kumar’s only purpose seemed to be letting Jasprit Bumrah know if the ball was reversing or not. Axar Patel has seen better times. If India won, it was — as Rahul Dravid rightly put — because of individual brilliance, more precisely Bumrah and Ravichandr­an Ashwin because England were showing no signs of slowing down on Monday. Which is also why Dravid didn’t mind saying the next three Tests were going to be ‘tough’ as well. That is coachspeak for “India can’t take anything for granted”.

What can Sharma do differentl­y? Loosen the shackles, to begin with. Central to the fun of watching a home series is the unyielding aggression with which Indian batters generally go about their business. That was sucked out of the contest. Watching Sharma plod about aimlessly on the first morning was difficult, especially because it has been only three months since his enthrallin­g take on the opening role at the ODI World Cup. And while there was probably an apparent compulsion to fill in for Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, the timelessne­ss about Sharma is as much about his instinctiv­e batting as his street smartness. Neither should be sacrificed on the altar of leadership.

More so because England aren’t adhering to any fixed logic of cricket per se. In Ben Stokes they have a captain who believes that before anything else the game should be entertaini­ng, and that defeats are worth risking in the pursuit of spectacula­r victories. The most visible change due to this evolution of thought is in their batting, which though relentless, isn’t mindless.

“I think it’s not like wild slogging,” Dravid said on Monday. “Some of the shots they are playing require a lot of skills and ability. You can’t just come and execute those things.” Not just attack, but England can also wait, watch and prepare the ground for an offensive was evident from the way Stokes slowed down the day after lunch. “There’s more to it than just attacking cricket,” said Dravid. “I have seen at times they know when to pull back, when to attack.

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