London, June 18: It was as if only one batsman was batting. Rohit Sharma was wowing us with a slew of those drives and pulls against Pakistan en route to a 140. And even when he was not playing those shots escape from run-outs ensured that Rohit retained the spotlight.
Even Virat Kohli could not take away the zoom lens from Rohit in that ICC World Cup 2019 match. It was only after the dismissal of Rohit, Kohli took the centre stage. But during the first 23.5 overs of his innings, Rohit had an able dramaturge on the other side, allowing him to indulge and unleash his genius. KL Rahul absorbed pressure at one end with a well-compiled fifty.
A 57 off 78 balls by an opener does not belong to 2019, it is more 1990s. But the old world sturdiness was what India needed from Rahul. The Bengaluru man was opening for the first time after the Asia Cup in September, 2018 and he got a promotion to his preferred slot because of an injury to Shikhar Dhawan.
Rahul had to take the chance, blending his and team's demands. Of course, Rahul will have to go back to middle-order once Dhawan returns but he needed to make a statement of intent and readiness to be in contention for the pole position. Mind you, Rahul is as capable as any other batsman in this line-up to play shots that prompt you to give a standing ovation.
But at Old Trafford, Rahul adopted a minimalistic approach. From the moment he faced the first ball of the match from Mohammad Amir, his focus was on guarding his end and giving as much strike as possible to an in-flow Rohit. Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, all of them were dealt with the same stone-coldness and assured bat.
Rahul explained it. "With the new ball, against any bowler, it's important to see off the first few overs," added Rahul. "That was especially true here because we didn't know what to expect from the wicket as it had been under covers for the past few days. Those first few overs are obviously the most difficult time because you don't know what the ball is going to do in the air and off the seam.
"For an opening batsman it's important to hit a few balls in the middle of the bat and get a few boundaries going. Then you start to focus on the game and all the pressure, the hype of India-Pakistan and the World Cup stage just goes away from your head," he said.
Rahul showed that increasingly relaxed frame of mind when he slammed Mohammed Hafeez inside out over the covers for a six. Class, confidence and range -- that one shot had contained everything. But the stage on that day belonged to Rohit, and Rahul like a good partner gave the other man space.
The injury to Dhawan should help Rahul keep the opening slot for the forseeable and he was understandably chuffed with the effort. "Shikhar and Rohit, in the last three or four years, have been such a dangerous combo," said Rahul.
"Their partnerships, if you see anywhere in the world, they've played so well for the country and they've been No.1 and 2 - they've owned those positions. I've had to wait for my chance and I'm just happy that I got to bat in the top three. It's my first international game against Pakistan and it has come in a World Cup so I couldn't ask for anything bigger or better.
"An opportunity like this to go out there and perform for your country, for your team, just gives you immense confidence. As a kid or as a young cricketer growing up this is what you dream to do - I'm really happy that I got the opportunity and I give myself six out of 10! Hopefully I carry on the confidence and get better," he said.
Rahul will not be the only hoping for that!