There is no spectacle quite like a free flowing Rohit Sharma once he decides to switch on the beast mode. In Mohali, it took just 36 balls for the Indian captain to convert an ordinary hundred into an unprecedented third individual double century in ODI history. In a matter of 36 balls even Sri Lanka knew the fate of the game had been sealed by one man alone. Let that sink in.
A century is never just enough to satiate Rohit’s hunger – he has to convert them into daddy hundreds, doubles even. Nine of his now 16 century knocks have been contributions of over 135. “Once you’ve got a 100, why not get another,” he says nonchalantly. Rohit has three of them – two more than every other man who’s ever scaled that peak – and each following the same template with ‘no secret formula’.
In an era where the openers are expected to go bonkers from the get go, Rohit follows the conventional path of taking his own time to get his eye in before pacing his innings and, eventually, swiftly switching to the fifth gear oh-so-effortlessly. Each of his three masterpieces – the first-ever against Australia in a tense series-decider; the world record 264 at Eden Gardens against Sri Lanka after having spent months on the sidelines, or this latest when the batting was under fire – are special in it’s own right but not too apart in terms of how he went about constructing them.
Back in 2013 in Bangalore, Rohit had consumed 71 deliveries on his way to the fifty, and 43 more to reach triple figure in the 38th over of India’s innings. But it wasn’t until the 46th, off Clint McKay, that he upped the ante. From 142 at the start of the over, Rohit hammered 67 runs in the next 20 deliveries he faced, including seven sixes and five boundaries. A year later in Kolkata, on his way to the all-time highest individual effort, Rohit typically stepped on to the accelerator only after reaching his fifty off 72 balls. The release point was in the 30th over, off Nuwan Kulasekara, and his graph started to climb rapidly. The century came at a strike rate of exactly 100; 150 off 125 deliveries, 200 in 151 and 250 off just 166.
Likewise, on a gloomy Wednesday morning, while Rohit was preparing himself for the long haul in Mohali – holding up one end and playing anchor to the more fluent Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas Iyer – Sri Lanka had no idea about the storm that was brewing. His contribution to the 115-run stand with long-term opening partner was just 46 off 60. It looked a laboured hundred from an underfire captain that took nearly 40 overs in the making. But with his confidence restored, Rohit had about ten more overs at his disposal and just the perfect platform to capitalise on. And capitalise he did, in his typical style.
Sri Lanka had worked out a perfect death-overs sequence for India – to send down wide yorkers and curb the free flow of runs; all for it to go haywire at the time of execution. What’s worse, Rohit was now in his element and could see right through the ploy. With his swift footwork and a rich repertoire of shots, the Indian captain sent balls soaring over the ropes for fun. Shuffling across helped him open up more avenues and a hapless Sri Lanka grew increasingly helpless. It helped his case that there were generous helpings of full tosses, but at his innovative best, Rohit even lap swept Nuwan Pradeep into the stands without breaking a sweat. Yes, a pacer.
Sri Lanka’s execution had gone awry, and the attack too predictable, and Rohit made merry by put on a six-hitting display in a manner only he can. At 277 for 1 after the 43rd over, India looked set for a daunting total in the vicinity of 330. Eventually though, they collected a massive 115 more runs in the final seven overs, 92 of which came off Rohit’s willow, and batted the tourists out of the contest.
The switch happened in the 44th over when Suranga Lakmal dished out three full-tosses in the row and the Indian captain duly deposited each one of them in the arc between long-on and deep square leg. Lakmal came back with a short ball only for it to be pulled neatly over the deep midwicket ropes. The fifth one – another inviting full toss – didn’t connect, leaving Rohit frustrated with himself, and Sri Lanka hunting for a plan B. In the absence of which, Pradeep and Thisara Perera took turns to bear the rest of the brunt – seven more sixes and three boundaries – as the 100 turned into a 150 and then 200 in the blink of an eye.
“That is style of my play,” Rohit said after his Man of the Match performance in the series leveller. “[Once] you’ve understood what the bowlers are trying to do its all about trying to play with the field… about you not making any mistake and getting out. I am not saying its impossible or difficult but its is very unlikely the bowlers are going to get you out once you have scored a hundred.”
It is the ability to pace his innings well that gives Rohit the license to throw his bat at anything and everything once set. But that’s also not without a sense of direction, he insists. “After a hundred, batting only gets easier. You have been there, took out the toughest part of the game which is the initial phase with the two new balls. You have batted that, your team is in a good position and you also have wickets in hand, so all those put together, gives you freedom to play those shots. I exactly did that,” he added, elaborating on his approach.
Having made six-hitting look like a child’s play, Rohit believes his strength lies in his impeccable timing of the cricket ball and the ability to think on his feet rather than relying on the brute force like some of his peers. “I am not someone like AB de Villiers, or Chris Gayle or MS Dhoni for sure, I don’t have that much power. I have to use my brain to manipulate the field and I have to stick to my strength which is to hitting through the line and playing with the field,” he said.
“Nothing is easy in cricket. Trust me, when you are out in the middle, you have to use your brain and you have to time the ball. Otherwise, it is not easy. I was trying to play with the field, playing a scoop shot, trying to hit over point. Those are my strengths. It is not always that you can clear the rope easily. So, that is the advantage of having five fielders inside. You can play with the field and shot selection becomes very important,” he noted.