INDIA TOUR OF SRI LANKA 2017
When Virat Kohli was going great guns, racing to a 96-ball 131, Rohit’s knock might have been slightly overshadowed, but the opportunity to contribute big was still there and Rohit ensured he did just that. © AFP
That Rohit Sharma had endured some tough times in Sri Lanka is something that can be understood by glancing at his numbers in the past. In the 18 One-Day International innings that he had played in prior to this series, Rohit could only manage 255 runs at an average of 15.93. He had crossed fifty only once, while his highest in the last eight innings in Sri Lanka before this tour was 11. To add to his woes, he was run-out for a single digit score in the opening game of the series and it seemed as though The Ghost of Christmas Past had found its Ebenezer Scrooge in Rohit.
Before the limited-overs series got underway, Rohit, who was named the vice-captain of the team, recollected his past failures in Sri Lanka, the same team against whom he scored his highest individual ODI score. “I have had some good times against Sri Lanka and at the same time I have had some terrible times against Sri Lanka,” he had said. “It is something that happens in sport, there will be ups and downs.” As much as he loved scoring against them, playing Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka remained an Achilles Heel. And this was something he set about rectifying.
In the three innings since his single-digit score in the opening ODI, Rohit has grown from strength to strength as he has amassed runs at will and currently tops the batting charts for this series. He has 286 runs, averaging 95.33 with his three consecutive fifty-plus scores, including two centuries in as many innings, helping him in that endeavour. His last two hundreds came in different situations, but the fluidity of his stroke-play remained the same.
During his partnership with MS Dhoni, he helped India recover from a disconcerting position to take the team over the line in a series-clinching win in the third ODI in Kandy. At the R Premadasa stadium in Colombo, when Virat Kohli was going great guns, racing to a 96-ball 131, Rohit’s knock might have been slightly overshadowed. But the opportunity to contribute big was still there and Rohit ensured he did just that.
Be it a controlled 125 not out off 145 deliveries to play the lead act in India’s six-wicket win or a second-fiddle role with a 88-ball 104 in a 219-run association with the Indian captain to set the platform for India’s mammoth total of 375, Rohit appeared at ease during both essays. Although India did lose wickets in a heap, as has been the case in the earlier games too, the stage that Kohli and Rohit provided was cushion enough for Dhoni and Manish Pandey to settle in and lead India towards a big total.
Pandey, who scored an unbeaten fifty in his comeback game and was involved in an undefeated 100-run stand with Dhoni, credited the second-wicket pair’s contribution that made India’s push towards a hefty total easier. “The start was really, really important,” he said. “I think we did it well given the fact that it was really hot. The guys were batting good and were looking for boundaries, that’s what made us reach 375 today. Those initial boundaries and the way Virat and Rohit batted and got their hundreds I thought they were really good and in the middle overs to come back again look for boundaries, it was little easier for us,” he added, acknowledging Kohli and Rohit’s massive stand.
“I have played a few games with him already now. I know how he plays, I know how he likes to rotate strike. I like to bat with somebody who loves to do that. Occasionally we get some boundaries and that’s how we keep the scoreboard ticking. With Mahi bhai, you are always on your toes and he keeps giving you advice,” added Pandey, when asked about his partnership with Dhoni and the way they approached the situation.
Things have been working well for them at the top of the order, with Rohit, Kohli and Dhawan occupying the top three spots for run-getters in this series. Lower down, Dhoni has been a steely presence, which has allowed the likes of Rohit, Pandey and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to flourish. But some of India’s experiments with the middle order hasn’t materialised into anything substantial. Hardik Pandya has been used in different positions in two matches but he failed to deliver. Kedar Jadhav also did not click in the middle order, which led to his exclusion and the inclusion of Pandey.
KL Rahul has probably felt the brunt of the experiments as the opener hasn’t been able to find his way around the middle order which has led to repeated failures, be it batting at No. 3, 4 or 5. Pandey, who isn’t a stranger to being moved around in the batting order, had some comforting words for Rahul while citing his own example.
“Rahul is always used to batting at the top order and the game is a little different there. I think it is on him to come out of this situation again. He has to understand maybe how the middle overs go because he always opens the batting and suddenly you are batting after 30 overs or 35 overs, you need some time. He will get used to it. Even I was feeling difficult when I was batting at No. 6. The batting used to come after 40 overs while when I was batting at No. 4, it could come after 25 overs. So it always takes time, and the faster you learn and the better batsman you become and I think that’s what I have done,” Pandey said.
“Middle order is where I bat, starting from No. 4 to No. 6 I have batted for India. I have to be ready for whatever spot I get. So if I get a chance then I need to get some runs and cement that spot for myself and then if you keep performing and you keep playing better, then maybe you come one up in the order. So that will be my goal to fix a spot or two for myself and stay there and win games for India,” he said of his own goals.
Some of the trials haven’t quite gone as per India’s expectations but that doesn’t mean it would end anytime soon. “The batting order and everything can be flexible according to the situation of the game. We will experiment here and there a little bit,” Kohli said after the game. India’s on-field laboratory will be a busy place in the near future and some failed experiments could happen as a result of that. But success too can be a by-product, Pandey being the case in point.