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A wonderful and mature innings from Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma took the matter into his own hands with a gritty century after India were dealt early blows in their World Cup 2019 opener against South Africa at The Rose Bowl in Southampton. He also became the third highest century scorer in alltime list for India behind Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. Moreover, Rohit Sharma also became the first Indian centurion of the ongoing World Cup, which came off 128 balls. Rohit Sharma's knock was laced with 10 boundaries and two hits over the fence as he led India's fightback at the top of the order.

With an experience of over 200 One-Day International (ODI) matches, Rohit is one of the vital cog for India in the World Cup 2019. He has accumulated over 8,000 runs at an average of over 47 and proved to be a match-winner. Apart form 23 centuries now, Rohit Sharma also has 41 half-centuries to his name. Former India’s elegant batsman V V S Laxman immediately tweeted “A wonderful, mature innings from Rohit Sharma. Great assessment of the situation and seeing India through to the win in the end, a hallmark of top players”.

When Rohit wears the India’s blue shirt he is very different batsman. Time and time again the cricket world have wondered how he could not play Test cricket in the same way with such talent. When it comes to an ODI, whether it is fast or spin, watching Rohit deal with their deliveries with such ease and elegance is a pleasure. There is assurance in his gait and a nonchalance to the way he plays his strokes all over the park. It is no surprise that he has lorded over the format and has even struck three double hundreds!

In his first few years, Rohit came to Australia and played as a middle-order batsman. He crossed the half-century mark just once in these matches but in his first game as an opener in the country, he slammed 138 and followed it up with two more tons in the next three matches - an unbeaten 171* at Perth and a 124 at Brisbane. Afterthis Australia became is favourite hunting place. Rohit has perennially been pretty good in Australian conditions in this format of the game. He has slammed five hundreds in the country in ODIs, the joint most - alongside Kumar Sangakkara and Virat Kohli - for any visiting batsman. But it is his consistency that stands out even more. For visiting openers who have aggregated at least 200 runs against Australia in Australia, Rohit Sharma has the highest average - a spectacular 98.62 with 789 runs in just 9 innings - including four tons and a half-century. What is staggering is the difference between Rohit and the other batsmen against Australia in their own backyard – the Indian opener has scored more than 30 runs per dismissal than the next-best, Geoff Boycott! That is an absolutely incredible achievement.

It isn’t to say he is ready for Test cricket again, no. That debate, rage as it does, isn’t on the conversation menu now. The point herein is about limited-overs’ cricket, particularly in ODIs, wherein Rohit has found his comfort zone. Here, he can easily find that fine balancing line between attack and defence, one that allows him to express while going into defensive mode should the need arise. This was his slowest ODI hundred - it was almost a different gear to his batting, a facet that many thought didn’t exist. Call it the power of playing in blue, or just the responsibility of being a senior batsman and vice-captain. Or maybe, it is just the liberation that comes with being an opener and building your innings from scratch. Rohit Sharma is enjoying batting at this point in time, probably more than he has ever done before.

in India's Cricket World Cup opener against South Africa augured well for the team and will help take some pressure off captain Virat Kohli, former opening batsman Krishnamachari Srikkanth has said. "Rohit Sharma's return to form is the biggest positive for India after the first game of the tournament," Srikkanth said. "Opening batsmen are crucial at the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup and Sharma more than anyone has that ability to turn it on. He can go from first gear to fourth gear in an instant and just kick on from there and keep clicking through the gears. For India, having someone who can go and get not just hundreds but even double hundreds is a major asset and also relieves the pressure on Virat Kohli a little," Srikkanth added.

The pursuit against South Africa wasn’t easy, the rival fast bowlers were probing around off - stump and Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris used the bouncer to telling effeect. Rohit played and missed a few, tried to hook some and edged but, importantly for India, he stayed at the crease. This wasn’t about being a pretty picture, it was all about lasting the course. The result was an outstanding 122 spread over 144 deliveries and studded with 13 fours and two sixes. This seemed more like a Test hundred in the way it was constructed and it turned out to be a match-winning effort during which he shared partnerships ranging from the small to the significantly larger ones with diverse partners like Virat Kohli, K.L. Rahul and M.S. Dhoni.

Adjudged the Man of the Match for his match-defining innings, Rohit explained why he approached the innings with caution. "Different experience from India. There was something in it for the bowlers through the game, so you had to play out the overs initially and see what the ball was doing. Couldn't play my natural game. You have to take your time. Certain shots that I like playing, I had to cut out and play close to the body and follow the basics properly - try and leave as many balls as possible on a pitch that is doing a bit," said Rohit after the win.

There was game-awareness and fierce focus, and an excited Kohli later termed it as Rohit’s finest ever ODI hundred. "Hats off to Rohit, his innings was special. On the field, we were confident as a group. With the bat, we had to work our way through because of the attack they have. That's where Rohit's innings was very very special. You need experienced guys to stand up. One of the top three getting a hundred is something we bank on,” Kohli said after the match. “I think in my opinion this is by far his best ODI innings because of the kind of pressure the first game brings from a World Cup point of view. 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,” Kohli added. South Africa captain Du Plessis summed it up nicely saying "Rohit did what we didn't do, he got a hundred and saw his team through.”

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