Ahead of the inaugural World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand, SportsCafe caught up with Dinesh Lad, the childhood coach of star Indian opening batsman Rohit Sharma, who spoke about his ward’s evolution as a batsman.
Dinesh Lad has played a big hand in hunting talent from Mumbai’s school cricket circuit and has coached many prominent players by providing exposure to their raw potential. One of the most successful disciples of Lad happens to be none other than India’s star opening batsman Rohit Sharma, who currently stands third and sixth in the ICC Men’s rankings for ODIs and Tests respectively.
The Hitman has amassed 14,684 runs after playing 376 games across all formats since breaking into the international domain in the year 2007 and recently, with his exemplary performances in Tests, has managed to fit himself in the opener’s slot after seven years of struggle.
But long before his red-ball struggles began, in fact long before he even made his international debut, Rohit spent his early teens honing his skills under the tutelage of Lad senior. SportsCafe caught up with Rohit’s childhood mentor Dinesh Lad, and the renowned coach took us down the memory lane, recalling Rohit’s schooling days of cricket.
“When he was in ninth grade, he scored some 20-22 hundreds for his school in the span of two years. At that period matches were played for 45 overs, and his highest scores used to be in the 130-140 range. In the three-day matches also he would score a hundred and I was so dependent on him as he single-handedly won us matches,” Lad told SportsCafe.
“His white-ball chapter began only after he started playing under-19 cricket and I wanted him to play Tests for India. In 2013 he made his Test debut and before that, we had good batsmen performing in the middle order like (VVS) Laxman, so once he retired then only Rohit got his opportunity.”
It has been a decade and a half since the Mumbai Indians skipper sharpened his skills under the tutelage of Lad, and the Mumbaikar’s childhood coach revealed that he seldom discusses cricket technique with the Indian limited-overs vice-captain. Lad revealed that, whenever Rohit is in need of wisdom, he often resolves it with minimal advice.
“Basically, we don’t speak much on technique, since he has evolved himself a lot from 2011 where he has scored 27 hundreds, 10 in Tests (Rohit has 7 Test hundreds). The only thing I keep mentioning to him is that 'the more you stay on the crease the better you will perform' since it is very hard to dismiss him unless he gets himself out,” the coach admitted.
But despite having gotten a strangle-hold on his place in the longest format, Rohit has not been exempt from criticism. The 34-year-old has often come under fire for throwing away his wicket, with the infamous narrative being “Nobody dismisses Rohit Sharma more than himself”. These exact words were doing the rounds on social media after Rohit attempted to loft Nathan Lyon at Gabba when he was settled with a score of 44, and, notably, former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar chastised him for his shot selection.
“Why, why, why? That’s an unbelievable shot. That’s an irresponsible shot. There’s a fielder there at long-on, there’s a fielder there at deep square leg. What a waste of a wicket. This is Test match cricket. You have to start, you have to convert it into a big hundred particularly when the opposition has 369,” Gavaskar had commented on Channel Seven.
Lad admitted that Rohit, every now and then, has the tendency to throw his wicket away callously, and, pointing to the right-hander’s knocks against England, stressed that the opener is at his supreme best when he deploys and puts to use the solid defensive game he possesses.
“Even I feel he gives away his wicket and I have told him about this and he himself feels this to some extent. He is the kind of batsman who relies more on strokeplay and will play 200 balls and score 50, but will make 110 from 100. So sometimes in the haste of runs, he ends up losing his wicket. Only if he sets his mindset to stay on the wicket for a long period then he can make it. If you see against England, he had deployed his best defensive game, going only after the balls that needed to be it. So I think he has become a great opener and a compact batsman,” Lad mentioned.
Rohit struggled in his early Test days when he batted in the middle-order, where he averaged 39.62 batting between #3 and #6, but has been a revelation as an opener. In just 17 innings he’s amassed 1030 runs at an average of 64.37, laced by four centuries, and has stamped his authority to the extent that he is now widely regarded as one of the best openers in the world.
Lad credited the opener’s promotion as a major reason behind his transformation with the bat in Test cricket.
“I think in 2019 when he got a chance to open during the South Africa Test series and before that, he was coming from a remarkable World Cup. In that series he watched the ball carefully for the first 10-12 overs that helped him to capitalise. He is a compact batsman and in that series, had a better defensive approach. That was the turning point of his Test transformation,” Lad reckoned.
At home Rohit has passed the Anderson, Broad and Rabada tests, but now, awaiting him is arguably the toughest challenge of his career (as an opener) yet - the vicious swing of Trent Boult. Despite not having played in England previously, Rohit has a questionable record overseas, and his away average of 27.00 has, to date, continued to put a cloud over his achievements.
But contrary to popular opinion, Lad believes that Rohit will fend off the Boult threat with ease. Rohit nullified Cummins in Australia and played the number one bowler with relative ease, and Lad backed his ward to overcome the Boult challenge.
“I don’t think he will face many difficulties while facing him (Boult), the only thing that will matter is his 100% focus. In Australia you might have seen he comfortably handled Pat Cummins who was troubling most of our batters. Rohit was easily leaving the ball and defending well in those two games, so I don’t think technically he will face any issues. The only concern is when the ball moves faster (in England), he must watch carefully and defend well.”