Cricket World Cup 2019: Patience, match awareness behind Rohit Sharma’s ODI upswing as hundreds pile up
Rohit Sharma: "My aim is always to bat as many balls as possible and see where I can take the game." © AFP

LONDON: Virat Kohli termed it the best ODI innings he’s seen from Rohit Sharma. The man himself, when asked how he rates his unbeaten 122 against South Africa this week in India’s ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 opener, said it was up there, but not his most satisfying.

On Wednesday in Southampton, with India chasing a target of 228, Rohit overcame a testing opening spell from Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris to fashion a six-wicket win with his 23rd ODI century.

After the match, Kohli was moved to describe Rohit’s 144-ball century as the best of his hundreds. And this is a man who has three ODI doubles.

Rohit, mighty pleased with having scored an “unusual”century in India’s first match of the World Cup, did not rank it as highly as Kohli did.

“I think it was a massive confidence booster in terms of heading into the tournament,” he said at Kennington Oval on Saturday ahead of India’s game against Australia. “All the cricketers in this tournament want to start well, and it gives you that momentum going into the tournament. And yes, particularly talking about that particular innings, I felt it was not the way I would like to play.

“Something unusual for me, but obviously you have to respect the conditions, at times the bowlers, as well, which is probably the reason I would say probably one of the best I would say. Not the best, but yes, probably one of the best, I would rate that knock amongst the best at the top because it was not the easiest of the conditions.”

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By admitting that it wasn’t the way he liked to play, Rohit meant that he was not as bullish as he would have liked to be. He had to weather a serious spell of fast bowling from Rabada and Morris, and on that Rose Bowl surface shot-making was not as easy as on other English venues this summer. India’s target was 228, but with Shikhar Dhawan falling for 8, Kohli for 18 and then KL Rahul for 24, Rohit had to assess the conditions and situation acutely and bat deep, a factor which he went on to identify as vital to how his ODI career has blossomed since he was promoted to open several years ago.

Rohit Sharma India vs South Africa World Cup
Rohit Sharma’s 23rd ODI hundred helped India chase South Africa’s 227. AFP

“Experience teaches you a lot of things, and that is something that has come into my game of late. The past few years, rather, because you start the innings for your team, and you want to make sure that you start the innings and you finish off the innings, as well,” he said. “That gives you immense pleasure. And when I did that in the first game, the satisfaction you get finishing the job is something else, rather than scoring a hundred and not finishing off the game.

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“My aim is always to bat as many balls as possible and see where I can take the game. And also the reason I said is because once I cross a certain score, I tend to just take on from there. But it was not the case in that particular game. I had to see the situation, because I knew it was not going to be easy for the new batter to come in and start scoring runs.

“So my job was just to be there and make sure I held the one end of our batting unit, and then the others came in, chipped in that crucial partnership, as well, which was, again, very, very crucial. The KL partnership off 85 plus or something, and then MS [Dhoni], those were crucial partnerships. So I think this World Cup is all going to be about that. We’ve got to stick to partnership as much as we can and try and seal the game off there.”

Rohit now has 23 ODI centuries, which places him at third place on India’s all-time list behind Sachin Tendulkar (49) and Kohli (42). When he started opening five years ago, that milestone was a distant glimmer.

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“Personally, I don’t look into all of that. I don’t look into going past someone or getting close to someone. As long as I’m playing, I want to make sure that I do the job for the team,” said Rohit. “Whatever happens along the way will keep happening. That is an external reward for it.

Rohit Sharma 122* World Cup
Virat Kohli termed Rohit Sharma s 122* as the batsman s best ODI hundred. AFP

“But for me, it’s always been going and getting the job done for the team, and that’s what always I have focused on. When I started opening the innings, of course it was challenging because I’ve never done that before in international cricket, but I’ve come a long way since then until today, and it’s through the hard work and understanding what I can deliver as a batsman, and that is what I have focused on.

“The journey will continue, and those milestones that you’re talking about, I mean, regardless of what happens, I just want to make sure that as many games as I play, I make my team win as many games as possible. That’s the sole and whole job of me as a batsman. Yeah, along the way, you get rewards. I will take it any day.”

Rohit’s journey, in his own words, was buttressed by his ability to balance desperation and patience. In particular, he identified the 2013 Champions Trophy where he opened and scored two fifties in the first two matches of India’s title triumph, as an awakening of sorts.

“I think after the 2013 Champions Trophy, which we won, that gave me a lot of confidence that I can get the job done at the top of the order. And then since then, I’ve had my times where I’ve enjoyed my time, and there has been times where it’s not gone my way,” he said.

“But that is what you will get as long as you’re playing. This is a very challenging sport. It’s not easy, especially when you come to this part of the world where the conditions are challenging. You know, at times you have to go with your natural instinct and just respect the condition, whatever the condition is there, and then use your experience, basically. That’s what I’ve done in this four or five years. I’ve understood my game really well, which probably has been the most important factor, I guess.

“You know, understanding on certain conditions how you can play and how you can’t play, in India, in Australia, in England, South Africa, New Zealand, whichever place you go to. That is something that I’ve understood how you need to bat on certain given conditions, and realising the fact that also how important it is for one of your top order to bat all the way through. So those are the things I’ve calculated and I’ve brought into my game, which has probably given me success.”