The full range of Rohit Sharma

In a series dominated by spin, this contest has flown somewhat under the radar, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been hugely influential. The contest is Rohit Sharma versus England's fast bowlers, and so far it hasn't been much of a contest at all: 163 balls, 132 runs, one dismissal.

Only one batsman in this series has faced more balls from the fast bowlers, and while Joe Root has only been dismissed once in the 192 balls he's faced from Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, he's only scored 71 runs off them. That's a strike rate of 36.97.

Rohit has gone at 80.98 against James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Olly Stone and Ben Stokes.

It's not like India's batsmen have feasted on England's quicks as a rule. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have all achieved strike rates of under 40, and Shubman Gill has been dismissed four times in 92 balls.

The second and third Tests were played on pitches that provided ample assistance to the spinners right from the first session. India knew England would use their fast bowlers with the new ball, particularly in Ahmedabad, where they picked four seamers including the allrounder Ben Stokes. They may have felt this would give them a window of opportunity to score quickly before the spinners came on. And Rohit cashed in on this opportunity to play match-defining first-innings knocks in both Tests.

While scoring the first 50 runs of his 161 in Chennai, Rohit faced only 15 balls of spin. In Ahmedabad, where he made 66, he had only faced 13 balls of spin by the time he brought up his half-century.

One of the biggest advantages of being an opening batsman in India is that they're usually set by the time the spinners come on - at least in the first innings. In these two pivotal innings, Rohit wasn't just set when the spinners were still finding their rhythm; he was already well on his way to making substantial scores in low-scoring Test matches.

It's not dissimilar to the effect Virender Sehwag used to have on visiting teams, but Rohit doesn't employ Sehwag's edge-of-the-seat methods against the fast bowlers. He doesn't stay leg-side of the ball and flay everything through cover point. Watching him, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out how he deviates from the traditional Test-match batsman, especially now that his defensive technique gets him right behind the line of the ball and gets him playing in the V rather than towards extra-cover.

Rohit's ability to score as quickly as he can do against pace comes from two things. One is his ability to pull and hook balls that most other batsmen would probably not be able to. In Chennai, for instance, Stokes delivered a short ball that skidded through at around hip height. Rohit, as is often the case, was quickly in the perfect position to pull, back foot on off stump and hips open, so quickly that he could adjust to the low bounce. There was a man back at deep square leg, but he hit it into the gap to his left and cleared the boundary too.

In Ahmedabad, Archer bowled a 141.7kph short ball that got up around Rohit's right shoulder. It's not easy to keep that sort of ball down, but Rohit did it with a wristy topspin finish and placed it well in front of square. Then, off the next ball, he showed he could hit short balls in the opposite direction too, standing on tiptoe to punch Archer through point even though he hadn't given him genuine width.

The second reason behind Rohit's scoring rate against pace in this series has been the range of lengths he's been prepared to drive. Batsmen don't often get genuine half-volleys in Test cricket, and England haven't offered Rohit too many, except early on in Ahmedabad when Broad overpitched a couple of times while searching for swing with the pink ball. Otherwise, Rohit has been prepared to drive on the up. You can do this when the ball isn't swinging or seaming a great deal, but you still need to get a lot of things right technically. The side-on replay of one such drive against Broad in Chennai, hit straight of mid-off with a high left elbow, illustrated all these things: the length of Rohit's front-foot stride, his head position, the timing of his weight transfer.

Rohit has been excellent against spin through this series too, and his judgment and opportunism while sweeping Jack Leach and Moeen Ali were standout features of his 161 in Chennai. But he's not been as free-flowing as he has been against pace, with Root (65.01), Gill (61.47) and, of course, Rishabh Pant (94.36) achieving brisker strike rates against spin than his 56.94. And he's only hit two sixes in 288 balls against spin, which suggests a deliberately toned-down approach, tailored to the conditions.

You could say this approach has been the opposite of the one Rohit adopted during the 2019 home series against South Africa, when he scored three hundreds in four innings while opening the batting for the first time in Test cricket.

In that series, India played on pitches that offered a little bit of early help to the fast bowlers before flattening out. They batted first each time, and Rohit started cautiously against the new ball, avoiding drives on the up, before changing gears when the spinners came on. It told in his strike rates. Against pace, he scored at 38.73 in the first 20 overs of India's innings, and at 65.36 overall. Against spin, he went at 88.88, and hit 16 sixes in 351 balls.

This series has brought a different opposition and markedly different conditions, and he's continued to score runs while adopting a vastly different approach. We're still only discovering the full range of Rohit Sharma, the Test batsman.