Rohit Sharma : The double ton man of one day cricket

The constant criticism of being labeled an underachiever can get wearisome for some. But not for Rohit Sharma. When the late bloomer decides to set the stadium alight, he is virtually unstoppable as he showed on that blistering night in Kolkata more recently when he went on a rampage, annihilated the opposition, rewrote the history books and stretched the realms of what is possible once more. His hugely insatiable appetite and natural talent dictate that it was about time the young man made good on his promises.

X-Factor comes good…

That Rohit is a precocious talent is undeniable. So confident is the team of the batsman’s talent that even on the match eve, India’s stand-in skipper, Virat Kohli, referred to Rohit as the X-factor in the team that could make a huge difference in India’s successful defense as the reigning ICC Cricket World Cup champions in three months’ time. For years it would appear, Rohit did not struggle so much with living up to expectations as much as realizing his own worth and the merit of converting that talent into a concrete cemented place in the Indian cricket team.

But the evidence that all that was changing could not come in more emphatic fashion than the manner in which Rohit Sharma tore into an enervated Sri Lankan attack and posted what is now a world record by a mile. There must be something about Rohit Sharma, November and the Eden Gardens that the Sri Lankan team was not privy to. After all it was at Eden Gardens where Rohit Sharma made his Ranji trophy debut as a twenty year old lad, scored a century against the Kolkata Knight Riders, led his team the Mumbai Indians to victory in the IPL, scored a Ranji Trophy double hundred for Mumbai against Bengal and even made a memorable Test debut against the West Indies, scoring an unbeaten 177 last year. Not that it would matter as Rohit decimated the opposition bowlers en route to a towering tribute to his own talent – a second double century in one day internationals – the first of its kind for any batsman in the history of international cricket.

The self-belief in the lad found echo in the stand-in skipper’s voice who asserted before the now famous Eden Gardens innings, “If a player like him gets going, he can be the X-factor in a tournament like the World Cup. When he gets going, he can bring those big runs and wins the match for you. His value for the team is massive; it's good to have him back. Most probably he would bat where he had batted in the past. It's all about giving him confidence as much as we can before going into the World Cup. These two games and the tri-series in Australia will certainly help him get into his groove at the top of the order. We will be looking at giving him as many overs to bat as possible.” Kohli went onto to add, “The good thing about him is that he doesn't really change himself or his game after getting success or failures. That's one of his biggest strengths. That's why even after such an unfortunate injury in England and going out half way when he was batting well, he comes back and gets a hundred in the first game he plays against Sri Lanka (in the tour match). It shows the mental toughness that he possesses. We all are aware of how good he is with the bat. He brings a lot of positivity to the team. He's a good thinker of the game. In the past when he was leading the side, he's always up for discussions. He brings a lot of value to the team. Especially knowing that the World Cup is round the corner, it's great to have him back.”

Rohit Sharma’s whirlwind double century at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata was perhaps the most resounding announcement by any batsman that he was ready to step up his game for the sake of his own talent, unmindful of the opposition or the opportunity, and ready to take the world by storm.

Eden Gardens comes alive once more…

Rohit Sharma made history on the 13th of November, 2014 by becoming the first batsman in international cricket to score two double centuries in one day internationals. In doing so, he marked himself as one of the giant conquerors of the game with an insatiable appetite and that teams would be at peril for underestimating his talents. At the end of the day, despite being the 150th anniversary celebrations of the hallowed venue, it seemed the Eden Gardens was privileged to play host to such effervescent talent. The Sri Lankans, on their part, would have felt hard done by. After all, they were not even slated to play India. A series of sticky events led to two reluctant teams bowing to the wishes and economic encumbrances of their respective boards. Although the Sri Lankans should have had an inkling of the pitfalls of dropping Rohit Sharma (who had given them a fair indication of his mood in the tour match prior to the one day internationals), at the end of fifty overs, chasing 405 runs for victory, the Sri Lankans knew they had only themselves to blame for letting Rohit off the hook.

When Thisara Perera dropped a straight forward regulation catch at third man off the bowling of Shaminda Eranga, little did he know he would end up reliving that awful moment for the better part of forty-five overs as Rohit Sharma got stuck into the clueless Sri Lankan attack. Although he brought up his first fifty runs off seventy-two balls, bringing up his first boundary after facing twenty-one deliveries, Rohit rattled the opposition into submission, plundering his way to a record innings of 264 runs from only 173 balls, studded with nine sixes and thirty-three blistering boundaries, the latter he now holds as a record in one day internationals along with the record for the most number of sixes (sixteen) in a single innings in the 209 runs he scored against Australia a year ago. From scoring 150 runs from 125 balls to scoring a double century off only 150 balls, Rohit Sharma played like he was invincible and he was on the day as he raced from 200 to 250 runs in only fifteen balls. In doing so, he scored 65.3 per cent of India’s total score, sandwiching him between Kapil Dev’s 65.8 per cent and Sir Viv Richards’ 69.5 per cent.

That Sri Lanka managed to score only 251 runs, thirteen runs short of Rohit Sharma’s individual innings on the night said it all. En route, he plundered one too many records, including scoring the second highest runs in a single innings in List A cricket following Ali Brown’s 268 runs for Surrey against Glamorgan in 2002 while going past Shikhar Dhawan’s 248 runs scored against South Africa ‘A’ in Pretoria in 2013. That only three cricketers have gone past the 200 run mark in one day internationals is remarkable enough. Therefore, for Rohit Sharma to go past Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag and do it twice and that too in consecutive years is quite extraordinary, leaving Sehwag’s 219 runs for the highest individual score in one day internationals trailing behind his mammoth innings.

The fluency of his innings, his ability to pick runs at will, his sheer dominance while also building partnerships around him, be it with Virat Kohli or Robin Uthappa made Rohit Sharma an example of the perfect game built around the fifty overs format. For a player to have the sheer ability, stamina and selfbelief to go beyond the point where others would have settled for laurels speaks of his insatiable restlessness to do his talent justice and also, to take Indian cricket soaring to new heights.

Rohit Sharma – the return, the reinvention

That it took him seven years since making his debut as a twenty year old who featured in India’s success at the inaugural edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007 seems about right given that the spark that burned so bright on India’s tour of Australia during the Commonwealth Bank series in 2008 (where he scored sixty-six valuable runs in the first final in Sydney) had begun to dim alarmingly not soon thereafter. While the likes of Virat Kohli overtook Rohit Sharma in gaining world renown, to many, it seemed that Rohit was essentially his own enemy.

For such prodigious talent, Rohit Sharma appears a changed, more determined individual today than he did even at the height of his initial success seven years ago. There is a certain ferocity about him and his batting in particular, about proving his worth to himself rather than to the rest of the world that had lamented the stagnation of his talent for the better part of his career. The late bloomer is beginning to show signs that he is ready to step up to the responsibility that comes with such huge natural talent. It is perhaps all in good timing given that India is now largely a side of young budding talent as opposed to when Rohit Sharma tried to break ranks while some of the India’s most illustrious seniors were still resisting hanging up their worn-torn boots.

Opportunity and injury set back…

The sting in Rohit Sharma’s mind apparently stemmed from the setback when on track to making a more permanent place in the Indian cricket team, he was left out of the World Cup squad in the 2011 edition. While the Indian team were toasted and feted for bringing the Cup home after twenty-eight impatient years, Rohit Sharma was smarting from an opportunity lost since making his debut back in 2007. Inconsistent performances meant that despite scoring two centuries in the Ranji trophy final of 2008- 2009, he was left out of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 squad. Boys his own age but who started out in international cricket much after his debut had piped him to the team while he was left cooling his heels at home.

As tough as that personal setback was for him, to his credit, he used the pain to make a more determined choice – to leave everything on the field and hold nothing back when the opportunity to represent his team and country presented itself. Although he did win the Man of the Series award in the Caribbean islands after the World Cup in 2011 when other players were rested, it was not until 2013 that Rohit came back on the radar. And this time a much stronger Rohit Sharma emerged. Rohit was entrusted with the task of opening the innings in one day internationals for India in January 2013 and he has not looked back since. Against England at Mohali, Sharma showed he was game for it when he scored eighty-three runs.

Rohit Sharma showed the full prowess of his talent against the hapless Australians who were caught short of breath as Rohit dug in his heels and went onto score his first double century in one day internationals, only the third batsman in international cricket and the third Indian batsman to do so after Sachin Tendulkar in 2010 and Virender Sehwag in 2011. It was also his second one day international century for the series. Statistics started to do his talent justice. After being pushed up to the top of the batting order, Rohit Sharma’s batting average has grown closer to the respective forty mark while in the period since January 2013, his average has shot up to 53.48 as he amassed nearly 2000 runs (1765 runs to be more precise) in one day internationals from thirtyeight innings that have included two double centuries to bring his one day international hundreds to five. Contrast this with the fact that Rohit Sharma, despite all his talent, was also the holder of the dubious record of being the third slowest Indian batsman to reach 2000 runs in one day internationals following in the footsteps of Kapil Dev and Robin Singh, who were never considered in the same bracket as Rohit as far as their batting talent was concerned.

However, as if there was another sting in the tale, even as skeptics began to wonder whether Rohit Sharma would remain a home grown talent or would be able to convert his newfound success on tours overseas, Rohit injured the middle finger on his hand compounded by a shoulder injury to be ruled out of India’s tour of England just when it seemed the time had come to make headway.

Ominous on his comeback…

Where mere mortals would have cursed another turn of fate for the injury that lapsed time from August to November, Rohit Sharma talked not only about working the other muscles in his body and strengthening his core but also, and more importantly, about working out the mental side of his game. That time out of the Indian team when Ajinkya Rahane was challenging him rather well for the top spot, Rohit Sharma remained unfazed by the competition and determined about his own progress and the results were immediate. Realistically the Sri Lankan team should have expected fireworks at the Eden Gardens. They had been given a taste of the things to come in the tour opener when Rohit Sharma blazed his way to 142 runs off only 111 balls.

Kohli had high praise for Rohit with whom he would have no doubt thought competition would be stiff in making the Indian team when the former made his own debut. It also gave insight into Kohli as a skipper, albeit stand in for the one day international series against Sri Lanka, because if a skipper is able to assess his players, it bodes well for the player as well as for the skipper to harness the best out of that player for the good of the team.

Rohit Sharma came into the team for the fourth one day international to replace the rested Shikhar Dhawan. In doing so, he was slated to partner Ajinkya Rahane, the man who replaced him at the top of the batting order after Rohit injured himself on India’s tour of England in August. While Rahane had steadily made a strong case for himself at the top of the order in rather sublime fashion, Rohit was never in doubt that he belonged at the top of the batting order, his assertion interpreted as arrogance in the manner of response to journalists in some quarters.

Healthy competition… still a concern

Any praise for Rohit Sharma has been tempered by the disappointment of past expectations. However, to deride Rohit Sharma’s latest accomplishments by emphasizing the flat track of a pitch at the Eden Gardens that held equal promise for all batsmen on both teams, the pedestrian quality of Sri Lanka’s bowlers on the night or of the fact that another monumental feat had come on home soil is to discredit every other player who has achieved similar success. Even when the opportunity presents itself and particularly so in an almost disinteresting scenario, it takes even more of a gifted player to raise the level of his game, commitment and involvement to make ripe of the opportunity.

From his years of struggle, Rohit Sharma would know that the double century is not the laurel of his career to rest upon but the launch pad for the revival of his cricketing ambitions. It is going to take even greater resilience and resolve to go beyond his initial success in Australia in 2008 if he is to prove his numbers are not flattering only on the domestic front since making his debut at the top of the batting order. His statistics, leaving aside his rather belated Test debut, for one day internationals hardly scream deaf in one’s ears even after 125 one day internationals wherein he has scored 3743 runs at a batting average of 38.19.

What bodes well from India’s perspective is that competition from Rahane should keep Rohit on his toes, no room for complacency as may have been the case in the past. It is a hard proposition for Rahane who has done almost everything right by the book without being flamboyant. However, the tradition of the limited overs game has dictated the preference for a explosive batsman at the top over the sublime and while that is something of a dismay for someone of Rahane’s prospects, it is also perhaps his greatest service to Indian cricket for keeping someone like Rohit Sharma from slipping back into the days of lackadaisical pursuit of ambitions.

This is undoubtedly Rohit Sharma’s second innings and perhaps the last given that India have traditionally tended to find batting talent even in the midst of a seemingly arid season albeit with the tempering of time and patience. Patience for Rohit Sharma’s had already begun to wear thin. Rohit Sharma knows he has fought his way back into contention, perhaps more strongly now on performance than he did on talent when he first made his way into the Indian cricket. Time, like sand, has slipped silently in the intervening years. Now it is up to a more mature, seasoned, self-assured Rohit Sharma to make up for lost time. He seems on the right track.

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