Newsmaker: Hitman on a roll

After the humiliating defeat against Sri Lanka in the first ODI at Dharamshala, a lot was at stake when stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma walked into the middle, put into bat in the must-win second ODI at Mohali on Wednesday. But much to the dismay of the upbeat visitors – fresh from breaking a 12-match losing streak in the shorter format – the Mumbai hitman emerged at his ruthless best, setting a chilly afternoon on fire at the PCA Stadium in Mohali.

Rohit smashed his third double hundred in one-day internationals to fire India to a mammoth 392/4, paving the way for a facile 141-run victory to keep the three-match series alive. Such was the pace of Rohit’s unbeaten 153-ball 208 that after notching up his 100 off 115 balls, he blasted his next 100 off just 36 balls with the help of 11 sixes.

Records

A host of records were shattered on the day that saw Rohit, leading the side in the absence of rested regular captain Virat Kohli, slam his 16th ODI hundred. His last double hundred also came against Sri Lanka (264, November 2014), while the first one was recorded against Australia (209, November 2013). His swashbuckling knock included a dozen sixes and 13 fours, as he literally toyed with the Sri Lankan bowlers.

Opening the innings, Rohit took his time initially as Shikhar Dhawan (68) took the attack to the opposition. The hugely successful opening duo completed their 12th century stand to lay the foundation for a huge total. With yet another special effort, Rohit crossed the 100-run mark in ODIs for the sixth time this year. It was also his first century as captain. It was raining runs in the last 10 overs, in which India added as many as 147 with Rohit doing bulk of the scoring.

With three out of the seven double centuries in ODI history already in his name, the 30-year-old has developed a special liking for hitting big hundreds. Rohit’s five 150+ scores in ODIs are the joint-most in history along with Sachin Tendulkar and David Warner. The trio are also the only ones with four 160+ scores apiece while Rohit’s four 170+ knocks are the most by any player. The man himself also doesn’t hide his penchant for scoring big. “That is my style of play. It was all about me not making a mistake and batting as long as possible. That’s what I did. There is no secret or formula to it. You just have to bat and not make any mistake,” Rohit simply put after Wednesday’s match.

Ever since making his ODI debut in 2007, Rohit’s talent and class were never in doubt. One always marvelled at the amount of time he had to play his shots. That sense of wonder remains. The elegance and composure with which he batted soon branded him as the next big thing to come out of Mumbai cricket after Sachin Tendulkar. But sadly, the first six years of Rohit’s career were frustrating to say the least, much like his illustrious Mumbai predecessor’s initial phases in limited overs cricket.

Touted as the future star of Indian cricket, Rohit struggled to seal his place in the ODI outfit while a Test debut had to wait until 2013. He came close to donning the Test cap against South Africa in 2010, but an injury ruled Rohit out on the morning of the match. His initial stint in coloured clothing too didn’t do justice to the immense talent he displayed while breaking into the big league — an average of 30.84 after 80 innings at a strike-rate of 78.2 with just two centuries to his name.

The great Tendulkar too had struggled to live up to the expectations during the first five years of his ODI career, failing to strike it big in the first 60-odd matches. But things changed after he replaced an injured Navjot Singh Sidhu at the top of the order against New Zealand at Auckland in 1994.

The decision proved to be the turning point in the history of Indian cricket, with Tendulkar blazing his way to a 49-ball 82 to help India rout the Kiwis by 7 wickets. Tendulkar went on to become the highest run-getter in the history of ODI cricket, amassing 15,310 runs at 48.29 in 344 matches as an opener. He blasted 45 of his 49 ODI centuries as an opener.

Somewhat on those lines, in spite of getting many chances in ODIs, Rohit failed to cement his place in the playing XI due to poor returns and many wrote him off in 2012 when he scored just 168 runs in 14 matches. Fortunately, he had the backing of then skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who never doubted his abilities.

Second phase

The second phase of Rohit’s career began on January 23, 2013, when Dhoni asked him to open the innings against England in the crucial 4th ODI at Mohali. The stylish right-hander struck a stroke-filled 83 to not only help India clinch the series, but also give a second lease of life to his so far indifferent international career. There has been no looking back. Rohit has hammered 4,439 runs at 58.40, with 14 centuries. As an opener, he averages 56.33 in 88 matches, more than any other opener with at least 1,000 runs. His closest competitor is Hashim Amla who averages nearly 52 as an opener.

Sceptics, who wonder whether he has it in him to perform in all forms of the game, point to Rohit’s 23-Test appearances over 10 years. The Mumbai batsman seems eager to prove the critics wrong — his comeback in Tests in the just-concluded Test series against Sri Lanka is a case in point. After registering two centuries in his first two Tests against the West Indies in 2013, Rohit’s third Test ton came last month in Nagpur. He followed up his unbeaten 102 in Nagpur with innings of 65 and 50 not out in the drawn Test in Delhi.

It is said the value of a player can be gauged by what the dressing room thinks about him. And Virat Kohli probably gave Rohit the biggest compliment during a recent web-series programme. “I will tell you a story about Rohit. It was 2007 and I was playing U-19s. And we were told that there is this player Rohit Sharma and people spoke highly about his talent. I started feeling like ‘upcoming player toh hum bhi hain (even I am an upcoming player).’ So during one of those World T20 matches, I wanted to watch what was Rohit Sharma all about. Jab batting dekha, main just chup chap aake baith gaya (when I saw him bat, I quietly sat down),” Virat recalled.

On Wednesday at Mohali, the low full tosses from Suranga Lakmal could well have landed in the cupped hands of fielders stationed at the boundary line, instead of landing in the stands. They didn’t because the day Rohit hits — it stays hit. Clichéd but holds true for the hitman from Mumbai.

aritramukhopadhyay@mydigitalfc.com

Columnist: 
Aritra Mukhopadhyay