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ICC World Cup 2019: Rohit Sharma makes a statement of maturity

Rohit Sharma powered India to victory over South Africa with an unbeaten century (Image Courtesy: CWC Twitter)

Southampton, June 6: On another day, Rohit Sharma could easily have disconsolately trudged back to the dressing-room on any one of at least a half-dozen instances within the first quarter-hour of India's chase.

The ball was jagging and flying around, Kagiso Rabada was breathing fire, and mere fortitude and technical expertise wouldn't be enough. India's vice-captain was fortunate that for the pluck he showed, he was blessed with luck. To his eternal credit, he made the most of his good fortune, firing an important salvo as his team made a winning start to its World Cup campaign.

It was a knock with import far greater than its sheer impressive numbers. This was a statement of maturity and common sense from the normally flamboyant right-hander, who was willing to win ugly, so to say.

It can be most tempting to try and hit your way out of trouble when the ball is buzzing around your ears or cutting you in half at 90 miles per hour. Rohit put prudence before bravado, sacrificing his ego and putting the needs of the team at the top of his to-do list to deservedly walk away with all the accolades.

His unbeaten 122, an innings of many parts - initial diffidence, hesitancy and uncertainty, the gradual opening up with time spent in the middle, and a glorious flourish with the finish line in sight - was the 23rd time Rohit had breezed past the 100-run mark in One-Day International cricket.

That took him to sole ninth place on the list of most century-makers in 50-over cricket, ahead of Sourav Ganguly and below only the top-two of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli among Indians.

That it came on a seminal day, as India shed their rust and embraced clinical professionalism, should stand Rohit himself and the team in good stead as they seek to build on their six-wicket conquest on Wednesday of South Africa at the Ageas Bowl.

Rohit Sharma powers India to win

Rohit was shelled on one by Faf du Plessis, the South African captain diving forward a touch late at second slip and therefore unable to get his hands decisively under the lob off the glove to an attempted pull off Rabada. He was struck on the body, beaten outside off, forced to edge here, nudge there, but there was no impatience, no devil-may-care indiscretion, no throwing caution to the winds.

Rohit has several more substantial knocks under his belt, not least his world record 264 against Sri Lanka, but this century must rank among his very best, given both the context and the stage.

In fact, Kohli was emphatic in stating that he hadn't seen a better ODI hundred from his trusted lieutenant.

"In my opinion, this is by far his best ODI innings because of the kind of pressure the first game brings from the World Cup point of view," his captain insisted.

"And then I know, as a batsman, when you go in and a few balls bounce like that, it's not easy to gather yourself again and play in a calm manner. A lot of times, batsmen tend to hit their way out of the situation. But he was very composed, he's played so many games, we expect a lot of maturity and a lot of responsibility from someone like him."

Rohit's was a carefully constructed essay around the initial play-and-miss. He didn't strike his first boundary until his 23rd ball, a sparkling swivel-pull against Rabada that mocked the length of the long-leg boundary.

His first 50 took 70 deliveries, the arrival at the bowling crease of Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi simultaneously allowing him to briefly impose himself. Fifty to 100 came off a further 58 balls as he started to flow freely, and by the end, he was positively humming as he reeled in the target in a hurry with Hardik Pandya for company.

"At no stage did we feel like he is going to throw it away," Kohli pointed out.

"Controlling the game so beautifully from one end and allowing the others to play themselves in and string in small little partnerships, he played the perfect innings for that kind of a situation on that kind of a wicket against a bowling attack that was threatening to pick up wickets at any stage. By far his best knock."

That's a nice base to on build on, surely.

(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)

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Story first published: Thursday, June 6, 2019, 9:18 [IST]
Other articles published on Jun 6, 2019
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