0,11, 5, 5, 0, 0, 4, 4, 4
These were Rohit Sharma's last nine scores in Sri Lanka in ODIs before the second ODI of this series. After 19 ODIs in the Island Nation, the swashbuckling Mumbaikar had a batting average of 15.23 with just a single half-century and four ducks to his name. In fact, he had reached double figures in ODIs just 8 times in Sri Lanka prior to his half-century at Kandy two days back.
All of that changed at Pallekele as the crowd favourite turned up in the 'Hitman’ avatar and led India to a comfortable six-wicket victory over the hosts in the third ODI of the series. Rohit Sharma, fresh off a half-century in the previous outing, looked at ease right from the onset of his innings and not even a slew of wickets at the other end could bring about his downfall.
In fact, he arrested India's slide at the hands of Akila Dananjaya with a solid, composed hundred, his first in Sri Lanka, and remained unbeaten till the very end to oversee India’a series triumph.
He started his innings with a crunching back-foot cut shot for four off Lasith Malinga, his Mumbai Indians teammate, three balls into the chase. He survived a review from the Lankans next over, watched Shikhar Dhawan chop one onto his stumps, nearly sliced Malinga to the backward point fielder and saw the skipper throw away his wicket. None of that deterred Rohit Sharma on this day. He was in his zone, and remained there right through the 145 balls he faced in the innings.
Even when Akila Dananjaya turned up and sent back Lokesh Rahul and Kedar Jadhav in the space of 10 balls to reduce India to 61/4, Rohit appeared tranquil and well within himself. In the next Dananjaya over, Rohit swiftly moved to and fro and punched the mystery spinner through covers with much poise, elegance and ease. There is just no way to stop Rohit Sharma when he is in that kind of touch and Sri Lanka know it all too well.
Two days earlier, he had tried a sweep and missed a leg-spinner from Dananjaya. He even reviewed a rather plumb call from the umpire and made a fool out of himself. Interestingly, he never attempted the shot even once against Sri Lanka's unorthodox spinner this time. The manner in which he bunted Dananjaya with a long forward stride and closed bat face revealed that he had a clear game plan against him.
He raced to a half-century off 64 balls with three consecutive boundaries off Dushmantha Chameera, two of them coming from nonchalant pull shots through square leg. With Dhoni manoeuvring the spinners from one end, Rohit had the freedom to go full throttle. But he wasn't going to gift his wicket this time around.
When Siriwardana and Dananjaya bowled in tandem, Rohit was careful to take the pressure off himself and Dhoni by taking on the former. Within four overs, the Mumbai Indians skipper had started reading Dananjaya off the hand and went on to gloriously thump him though mid-off with a pristinely timed drive.
From then on, he was unusually silent till he closed in on a hundred but swept aside the nervous 90s notion with a stepped out six off Dananjaya. A tickled single off Chameera in the 35th over took him to his maiden ODI hundred in Sri Lanka. An animated fist pump in the air followed, revealing the kind of joy he derived from this knock and he went on to celebrate the feat with a swivelled six off Fernando the very next ball he faced.
While he played second fiddle to Dhoni towards the fag end of the chase, Rohit had all but put India in the driving seat after the Dananjaya cloud loomed large early on in the chase. The 157-run stand between Rohit and Dhoni turned out to be the third highest-fifth wicket-partnership for India against Sri Lanka in ODIs. He remained unbeaten on 124 as India sealed the chase soon after a 35 minute break enforced by an unruly crowd.
After 9 single digit scores in his last 11 innings in Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma established his credentials as an all-weather batsman with a half-century followed by a sizzling hundred.
It was remarkable to notice how he played to his strengths in the third ODI. 28 of his runs came behind square-leg while 23 came through the cover region and 21 through long-on. He thrives on anything too short or too full and ensured that he rarely missed out when presented with an opportunity. Otherwise, the opener was happy to steal a single and rotate strike, a tactic that also supplemented Sri Lanka's woes.
With two more ODIs to go in the series, Rohit Sharma will look to further enhance his reputation in this part of the World although this sensational knock went a long way in silencing his critics.