'Intent' was the buzzword that flooded the social media streams, WhatsApp chats and analysis reports as India trudged to their first loss in the World Cup against England at Edgbaston.
The 'shut the shop' approach from MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav baffled the fans and experts. It wasn't just the death overs though, their overall approach including the Powerplay was also questioned.
It had started off with the Powerplay. Where Chasing 338 against England, India had got off to the slowest start by any team in the tournament — 28/1 from the first 10 overs. There were 48 dot balls played and just five fours hit. Somehow, all through, India never achieved the required momentum in their innings which mounted pressure and left a lot for the end.
England played astute cricket. Adapted to the conditions well. Attacked early on in their innings, targetted the short boundaries and then suffocated Indian batsmen with slower deliveries with shorter lengths.
Rohit Sharma scored his third century of the tournament. However, he wasn't at his fluent best. Once he gets settled, he accelerates. But at Edgbaston, he struggled a bit with his timing and then got out at a crucial juncture after a century.
It was a lesson for the Indian team. Maybe, they could have accelerated a bit at the start and counterattacked to put the England bowlers under pressure and not left too much for the middle and lower order which is their Achilles heel. Given the dependence on top order and with a long tail in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, that decision making becomes very tricky. But against big teams chasing those big totals, you've got to take those risks. India had miscalculated the chase. Kohli sort of admitted it.
"The toss wasn't a massive factor, but we weren't clinical with the bat I suppose because the wicket was flat. We should have accelerated and gotten closer, but they bowled superbly," he said in the presentation ceremony.
"The first 10 and last six overs left a lot to be desired," Sourav Ganguly lamented after the match.
48 hours later, those lessons were learned and corrections executed on the same track that was used for their previous match. And Rohit Sharma was at the forefront of those amendments.
India won the crucial toss and just four balls into the innings, Rohit belted out a statement of intent with a six off a pull over deep square leg off Mashrafe Mortaza.
He had made his intentions clear — that he is not going be bogged down or go into a shell.
He could have been back in the hut four overs later had Tamim Iqbal held on to a relatively easy catch at deep square leg off a mistimed pull, off Mustafizur. But Rohit rode his luck and it didn't stop him from playing his shots. This Rohit approach was a deviation from the normal where he generally takes time to get his eye in before unfurling his impressive range of shots.
In the next over, he charged down the track and clobbered Mohammad Saifuddin over extra cover, along with the swing, for a massive six. How's that for intent?
India crossed their last match Powerplay score in 5.5 overs itself. Rohit then chased a wide one from Mustafizur in the next over and got a thick edge for four.
"Just get a feeling, Rohit wants to make a statement here," Ganguly remarked while on commentary.
Rohit indeed was. He followed it up with three more fours and India's Powerplay score read 69/0 including almost double the number of boundaries from last time — 9 (8 fours and 1 six) and less than half the number of dot balls — 21 — compared to 48 against England. Rohit was 11 off 26 against England in the first 10 overs. Here he was 38 off 29 balls.
KL Rahul was tentative at the start but Rohit made up for it. In fact, he shepherded Rahul throughout, who struggled for fluency. In the six innings prior to this match, Rohit's average strike rate in the first 10 overs was 69, on Wednesday at Edgbaston, it was 131.
“He made it look really easy when really it wasn’t anything of the kind," KL Rahul told ICC-Cricket.com. The pitch was two-paced, up and down, not coming on to the bat, but from the way he played, you would not have known.
“We expect it from him and he is delivering every time. To bat with him is really easy because he takes the pressure off you. He keeps getting the boundaries and the scoreboard keeps ticking, I just have to keep there with him. It is great fun."
That early aggression set the tone and platform. It was something that England had done in their last match. And with the pitch expected to get slower as the match progressed and the tentativeness which comes with the middle order, Rohit knew that early momentum was vital.
"It was without a doubt," VVS Laxman told Star Sports in the innings break when asked whether it was a conscious decision to up the ante in first 10 overs by Rohit. "In the first over itself, right from the first ball, you saw that intent. The first over, he hit that six over mid-wicket and he was off to a flier. Because if there was one area after that loss against England that India had to address, it was the intent they showed in the powerplay. Today they got 69 runs and that's what you expect. That intent is so important at the start of the innings."
As the innings progressed, Rohit unfurled an array of cuts, pulls, well-placed shots and lofts. That lazy elegance was unfolding the magic and keeping India in cruise control. There was one shot, the straight loft off Mustafizur off the first ball of the 24th over, that sent everyone into dreamland and elicited memories of Sachin Tendulkar's straight six off Michael Kasprowicz in that 1998 Coca Cola Cup final, and Eddo Brandes at Benoni in 1997.
Rohit not only punished the bad balls but also manufactured shots off good balls and the urgency was witnessed in his running too as he hared down for singles and twos. That the ground was short on one side didn't influence his mindset as he cleared the bigger boundaries as well easily. He was clever enough to give respect to the best bowler of the day, Shakib Al Hassan, scoring runs at a strike rate of 62.5 against him but he made sure he scored off the rest at or over run-a-ball.
Rohit walked back in 30th over (104 off 92 balls) in a bid to accelerate but his knock had injected sustained momentum in the middle overs.
For a change, the middle order did take that slightly aggressive approach but in the last 20 overs, they could manage just 133/8 taking over from 181/1 in the 30th over.
Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes, in the post-match conference, said they were "very, very happy" with the comeback and restricting India to 314 fearing that India could have got 370-380 or even 400. Also, the fact that Bangladesh provided some late scare underlined the importance of Rohit's approach and the knock.
Rohit's game sense and adaptability to the situation stood out. This was a team that was not only looking to get out of the shadows of England defeat but the manner of it as well. And Rohit changed his gameplay to adjust to the demands of the team.
It wasn't just against Bangladesh; Rohit has shuffled among different roles and adapted in the earlier matches as well. Against South Africa, on a lively Rose Bowl track, where South Africa bowled with accuracy and hit hard lengths to make good use of the steep bounce, Rohit gritted it out after Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli's early departure to hit a composed century — the slowest of his career. He curbed his natural game, cut down on his favourite shots and grafted it out to remain unbeaten on 122 and chase down a tricky 228 with the Proteas pacers breathing fire. Kohli labeled it as Rohit's 'best ODI innings by far'.
At The Oval, against Australia, he played the second fiddle to Dhawan who looked in good flow to set a template and make sure they neutralised the effect of their best bowlers - Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. The Mumbai batsman scored 57 off 70 balls and added 127 from 22.3 overs with Dhawan for the opening wicket. That set the tone for a 350-plus score.
Against Pakistan, Rohit didn't have Dhawan at the other end, so he took over the responsibility of being the aggressor to release the early pressure off opener Rahul who was opening for the first time and had batted in the middle order earlier. His brilliance off the short ball from the Pakistan pacers took the sting out of the Pakistan attack early on in a high-pressure match and from there on, they were playing the chasing game. Rohit hit 140 off 113 balls at a SR of 123.89 and at no point in his innings after the fifth over his strike rate dropped below a run a ball.
He missed out against Afghanistan (1) and West Indies (18) but against England, he bounced back with a ton. He, however, wasn't able to get the same fluency and authority in his innings as the earlier ones on a slow wicket while chasing. The pressure of chasing might also have played a part. The start was slow and that hurt India, so he quickly processed the learnings and strode out with a different approach against Bangladesh.
Over the years, an inconsistent Rohit has not just metamorphosed into a six-hitting monster in white-ball cricket but along the way has also added a lot of maturity and smarts to his game.
"What's the feeling sitting in the dressing room when Rohit tees off like that?" Harsha Bhogle asked in the presentation ceremony after Bangladesh win. Kohli replied, "Well, I have been watching it for years now. I have been saying it publicly openly, in my opinion, he is the best one-day player around and when he plays like that he's a joy to watch and he's having the tournament of his life and we are so so delighted to see him bat like this because when he plays well we know that we are heading towards a big score and that's all you need in the changeroom, when he plays like that with so much confidence, all the guys in the change room get so much confidence watching him play and everyone is ready to go out there and strike from ball one."
Four centuries in the World Cup so far, Rohit is doing what everyone expected Kohli of in this World Cup. No Indian has scored four centuries in a single World Cup, no other player apart from Kumar Sangakkara in the world has done it and Rohit still has a possible three more games to break that record.
If he keeps going at this rate, he might gobble it.
Also, on a side note, make sure you don't give him that second chance. Never.
You might just end up dropping that World Cup.