209. 264. 208*.
We should have known all along.
All it needed to get Rohit Sharma into double-century mode was for him to be playing with a name and number on the back of his jersey! (Credits: @gauravkalra75)
In his first crack with a name and number on his India whites, also the beginning of his second lease of life as a Test cricketer – as opener – he came close, falling for 176, with a double (or better) there for the taking. If he felt any disappointment, it was short-lived, for he had twin tons in the Test just two days later.
Seeing those three scores at the top of this piece, or indeed the seven scores of above 150 he boasts of in ODIs – more than any other batsman in the history of the 50-over game – we’ve always known that Rohit has a penchant for humongous hundreds.
Seeing the twin tons at Vizag showed us the potential India’s ‘Hitman’ could hold in the longest format with his move up to the top.
However, his superlative 212 off 255 balls against South Africa in Ranchi, arguably ranks among his most significant knock in Indian colours, blue or white.
Sure, the 209 against Australia was majestic, the 264 against Sri Lanka otherworldly, and the 208 not out, also against Sri Lanka, a scary realization of just how much of a beast he had become.
Speaking from the perspective of Test cricket, sure, the 176-127 combo two weeks ago was record-breaking.
But even as he piled on the runs and raked up the records at Vizag, it did little to dispel the foremost doubt of the critics upon the move to promote Rohit to the top of the order; it’s all rainbows and butterflies on flat decks at home in front of hapless visiting bowlers with little or no experience, but can he do it on a wet morning in Wellington? On a treacherous deck at Trent Bridge? On a juicy surface in Johannesburg?
In other words, could he do it against a quality pace attack which is making the ball talk?
Yes, I hear you. This was only Ranchi. Maybe a slightly roaring Ranchi on the opening morning, but surely not a match for the venues and tracks just mentioned above.
But let’s forget the ‘where’ of this game for just a minute, and focus myopically on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the first morning. India were three down for 39 barely an hour into play on a surface that was providing purchase to pacers and assistance to seamers. The three dismissed batsmen included two who had hit double centuries in preceding games this series (Mayank Agarwal and Virat Kohli) and one who is widely regarded as India’s most solid bat for such conditions (Cheteshwar Pujara). Spearheading the charge of the opposition was Kagiso Rabada – a shoo-in among any list of the premium fast bowlers in Test cricket today. For support, Rabada had two more bowlers capable of semi-hostile to hostile pace.
If it were remotely possible to audition for those ‘tough’ conditions in red-ball cricket that the critics aren’t sure of, while still being in Indian conditions, this was it.
He did good, didn’t he? He did much better than what the scorecard will tell us.
The foremost threat to Rohit’s stay, undeniably, was going to be Rabada. Taking away the Vizag Test, Rohit had faced 70 balls from the Proteas quick in Tests, and been dismissed four times – at an average of 9.25 runs per dismissal.
On the first day at Ranchi, one that he ended on 117 off 164 balls, Rohit went down the humbler route when facing Rabada, taking 12 runs from 35 deliveries.
He also played the opening day to the template openers of the highest salt dream of: negating threatening passages before reaping the rewards of patience and persistence.
A cursory glance at his run-scoring breakdown highlights that: 17 runs from his first 49 balls, 21 from the next 19 he faced going into lunch; 14 runs from the first 27 deliveries he faced after lunch, 49 from the next 35 to take him to his third hundred of the series.
Even after getting to triple digits, there was no disregard to resolve – amid fading light and with rain around the corner, Rohit took 16 runs from the last 34 balls bowled to him on Day 1.
When he returned to the crease on Sunday morning, it was time to cash in. Rabada aside, no South African bowler was spared the rod: Lungi Ngidi went for 30 off 24, Anrich Nortje 15 off 10, George Linde 13 off 14 and Dane Piedt 22 off 19 – as Rohit belted 95 from the 91 deliveries he faced on Day 2.
End result? The guy who was on 17 off 49 finished with 212 off 255 – a strike rate of 83.13.
A Test double hundred by an Indian opener at a strike rate in excess of 80. Smells like Virender Sehwag? It’s too early to illicit any comparison, but given the times we live in, parallels, of course, have already begun to be drawn. And guess what? Of the 54 double centuries hit by Indian batsmen in Tests, only six have had a final strike rate better than that of Rohit’s Ranchi effort – and four of those six belong to that man Sehwag.
The hope is that Rohit, unlike social media, will not fall into the trappings of the comparison. His continued successes in the ODI game – nearly 7000 runs as opener, at a stellar average of 57.43 – even amid the weight of expectations and the burden of parallels, tells us he probably won’t.
Fittingly though, Rohit brought up his maiden Test double on the day of Sehwag’s birthday – and he got there like he got to his hundred a day earlier: with a six.
Sehwag would be proud. India can be expectant.
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