“In hindsight, for the team management, Rohit coming back to form must have been a big sigh of relief as they already have a misfiring middle-order. At least now they have an in-form top three and Kohli has one less thing to worry about”.
In the last week of December, when Rohit Sharma landed in South Africa with the Test team, he was one of the in-form batsmen in the squad, thanks to his exploits against Sri Lanka at home. In fact, it was on the base of the ‘recent form’, the team management picked him ahead of Ajinkya Rahane in the playing eleven for the Cape Town as well as for the Centurion Test. However, in his first eight innings of the tour, with just 118 runs under his belt, the success had eluded him.
The Indian camp might not agree, but the pressure was actually mounting on Virat Kohli and the think-tank to give Rohit a break. His struggle was evident at the crease, so much so that even his much-fancied technique was under the scanner.
“He [Rohit] will always struggle to score runs in SA because of his footwork. He plants his front foot across to the off-side and in SA, the pitches always seam and bounce a bit. This is the reason that he averages around 10 there. He’ll always struggle there because of his technique. It doesn’t affect him in India and even in Australia, because the ball doesn’t seam there, it just bounces, but when you have seam and bounce, with that technique, he’s got a problem,” said the former Protea skipper Kepler Wessels in a recent interview with the Times of India.
Well, just two days after this interview was published, Rohit has made a strong statement by scoring his 17th One-Day International (ODI) ton on a greenish Port Elizabeth wicket.
In Test cricket, one can still question Rohit’s credibility as well as temperament as a batsman, but when it comes to cricket in coloured clothing, he is undoubtedly a contemporary legend. On Tuesday, the Mumbaikar has proved that once again.
Rohit’s response to critics and fans
It was a cloudy afternoon. The ball was moving a bit and Kagiso Rabada, who, before Tuesday’s fixture, had dismissed Rohit six out of eight times on this tour, was breathing fire. The other South African pacers, especially Morne Morkel and Lungi Ngidi were hitting the right length and run scoring was not easy in the first 8-10 overs of the Indian innings.
After getting out to poor shots in the first four matches, his approach in Port Elizabeth was far more conservative, at least in the initial half of his knock of 115. Rohit early tentativeness at the crease was quite observable. But he hung around.
The second delivery he faced during his innings, pitched outside off and came back and the pads right in front of the off-stump. Thankfully, the height saved him.
Unlike some the previous knocks on this tour, on this occasion, Rohit was ready to take his time initially. 14 out of the first 15 deliveries he faced against Rabada and Morne Morkel were dot balls before he dispatched a Morkel delivery to the point boundary to get things going.
In the next over, Rohit danced down the track against Rabada and dispatched a length ball over of the long-on boundary. From that point, there was no looking back for him. By that time, he had gained in confidence the vintage Rohit was back in business.
How did Rohit recover his form following a poor patch in South Africa? By being even stronger than usual through his "hot zone" in-front of square on the leg-side. #SAvIND pic.twitter.com/st9tGpVmZ9
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) February 13, 2018
When the South African bowlers tried to tame him with short-pitched stuff, we saw an exhibition of the hook and pull shots. In fact, the bodyline seemed like a comfort zone for Rohit.
His hundred eventually came up off 107 balls at the end of the 36th over, giving him enough time to make it a big one, which he generally does. But, unfortunately, he couldn’t do it this time around and got out caught-behind at a crucial juncture of the match.
The run-outs of Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, as well as the drop catch by Tabraiz Shamsi (when Rohit was at 96), might have curtailed his century celebrations, but Indian vice-captain is very much aware of the importance of this particular knock.
“It was a long time coming,” a relieved-looking Rohit was saying while collecting the Man of Match award. “I had a good time in the middle; as the game went on the wicket got slower and slower and it wasn’t easy.”
“We stuck to our plans and am glad it came off. You’ve got to keep yourself mentally fit. South Africa is a good place to play cricket and I try to keep myself in the right frame of mind and it paid off.”
In hindsight, for the team management, Rohit coming back to form must have been a big sigh of relief as they already have a misfiring middle-order. At least now they have an in-form top three and Kohli has one less thing to worry about.