Rohit and Ashwin's Contrasting Methods
Uncomplicated or complicated, aggressive or defensive, success takes many shapes. That realization has struck twice in a span of few matches.
As Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara showed at SCG recently, success doesn’t have one template. The recent test series between England and India has seen two stalwarts driving home this same point. One with the bat and the other with the ball. While, Rohit Sharma's success depicts how simplifying certain aspects of the game can be rewarding, Ravichandran Ashwin's success highlights having complex and innovative thoughts can be equally fruitful.
Rohit’s simplicity in technique and shot selection :
When you watch Rohit Sharma bat, you feel everything is being played out in slow motion. There is no scarcity of time when he bats. Most often this boils down to his ability to pick the length early, focusing on the bowler's release points. Besides that, what leaves him with extra time is his trigger movement or rather, the lack of one.
Trigger movements, as batsmen say, helps you get a head start in preparations. It helps them to get energy flowing in their feet, making them more nimble at the crease.
Virat Kohli has a back and across trigger, while Joe Root moves his back foot straight back. But, Rohit's simplistic forward press, gives you the impression he doesn't have one. And that is how uncomplicated it is. In modern days, where batsmen are on the move, Rohit is rather static as the bowler lets go the ball. This uncomplicated preparation lets him channelize his focus on the bowler's release better.
Not only his trigger movement, Rohit has a simple shot selection strategy as well. "See the ball, hit the ball" is an oversimplification of what Rohit does, but he does turn to that mode on occasions. While he has added a lot of caution to his game around the fourth stump line, Rohit has retained his simplicity in his lofted shots.
In the final test at Ahmedabad for instance, India lost Pujara and Kohli in the space of a single run in their second innings. Struck at the other end, Rohit could have chosen to go further into his shell, but he instead did this. Jack Leach, from around the wicket, bowled one in an ideal spot for a left arm orthodox. Rohit with a couple of swift steps down the track played a lofted inside shot over covers.
And then he did this. In the same innings in the 35th over, Rohit swept aerially when Dom Bess over-pitched the ball from over the stumps. He resorted to this sweep even with a squarish fine leg and a deep square leg in position. Couple of instances where his uncomplicated shot selection came to the fore.
The key for a batsman to flourish in turners is being able to put that ball, which turns past the bat, behind them. Rohit's uncomplicated shot selection guides him to do just that and his numbers at home are phenomenal. Among batsmen with over 1500 runs at home, Rohit's average of 79.5 is second only to Don Bradman himself.
Ashwin isn't simple, neither on-field nor off-field :
Contrast Rohit’s uncomplicated method to Ashwin’s. He relies on outfoxing the batsmen with a series of variations in pace, grip, release points and angles. Add to it variations in turn itself - the conventional off spinner, carrom ball, the away swinger and the under cutter. And variations in action and loading. Phew, Ashwin is far from simple.
Many argue that his recent success in away tours is due to him cutting down on variations and keeping it simple. On the contrary, Ashwin still keeps switching between his variations, but is able to execute them better.
In the 3rd test at Ahmedabad, Ashwin did something magical mid-air. The ball course corrected, drifted ever so slightly and then held its line to breach Ollie Pope’s defense. Pope's feet had moved in response to the initial line, only to be deceived by the drift. His feet wouldn't have moved in that strange manner twice in Ahmedabad, if Ashwin was just another 'keep it simple' bowler.
Add to this the off field layer. As Ashwin himself describes, he watches plenty of footage before the match in preparations for match ups. He thinks cricket all the time, hosts his own YouTube channel and listens to analysts and cricketers. With such interactions, one can only imagine the wealth of inputs and perceptions that his cricketing brain is exposed to. This, in no way, simplifies his thinking. It adds to the complexity.
Not everyone can pull off what Ashwin is able to do. With all this exposure, he is hearing opposing ways of going about a situation, from equally qualified cricketers and analysts. Lesser minds are able to hold just one thought at a time, but what sets Ashwin apart is his openness to explore the possibilities of opposing thoughts.
In fact, as the article, "How Successful Leaders Think" from Harvard Business Review states, "Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn't have access to insights that the opposable mind can produce. Unfortunately, because people don't exercise this capability much, integrative thinkers are fairly rare". Ashwin's approach is of course, rare and complicated.
This is not to say Rohit doesn’t have complex thoughts or Ashwin doesn’t simplify his game. It rather emphasizes that, uncomplicated or complicated, aggressive or defensive, success comes in many forms. That realization has struck twice in a span of few matches.