India vs Pakistan: Rohit Sharma's sensible knock in Champions Trophy opener shows he's come of age

Rohit Sharma is back. The last game he played for India was in October 2016. Comebacks are never easy even for a player of Rohit’s ability, let alone a comeback where you are playing against your arch-rivals in an ICC event, where a single loss can knock your team out of the competition. We saw shades of the old Rohit during his team’s successful Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign but there he had the luxury of batting in the middle-order in a T20 competition and this match was always going to be a much bigger challenge.

Rohit Sharma bats against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Sunday. AP Photo

Rohit Sharma bats against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Sunday. AP Photo

Rohit started tentatively against Mohammad Amir. He was trying to feel for the ball and was beaten on the outside edge three times in the first four deliveries he faced. India had a clear gameplan of playing it safe in the early overs and Rohit was thinking survival and not runs. He left a couple of balls in the first over and that encouraged Amir, who was keen to make early inroads, to bowl at the stumps. Rohit is a player who likes to feel bat on ball and that line of attack helped him settle down.

Giving Rohit company at the other end was the familiar figure of Shikhar Dhawan, who had missed India’s last few ODI matches due to poor form but a couple of good knocks in the warm-up ensured he got the nod ahead of Ajinkya Rahane to partner Rohit.

Batsmen always enjoy having a familiar partner at the other end, none more so than openers. Rohit and Dhawan would have surely talked about playing in England in an ICC Champions Trophy tournament. This is the same venue and the same event where the two had come together as opening partners in 2013. Back then, there was some doubt over whether Rohit had the technique and temperament to open the batting in England. Dhawan had opened the batting in Test cricket all his life but was new to the role at international level. The two laid all doubts to rest after giving India consistent starts throughout the tournament. Since then, Rohit has made the opening position his own and has become one of India’s most important limited overs players.

Pakistan celebrated the occasion of Dhawan-Rohit reunion by bowling the gentle left-arm spin of Imad Wasim from the other end. They may have expected Rohit and Dhawan to take risks and gift a wicket but both were content to play the waiting game at the start.

The only sign of aggression from Rohit during the power play came was a hook against Amir for a boundary over fine leg. Otherwise, the deft touches, gentle prods and loving caresses off his bat were enough to collect a few boundaries without taking any risks. Rohit looks at his best when he is trying to time the bowl without looking to hit it.

Patience was the hallmark of Rohit’s innings. After the powerplay overs, he took some calculated risks as you must do in limited overs games but was mostly happy to milk the bowling and attack the bad balls like the long hop from Shadab Khan and the free hit from Hasan Ali. When Amir came back into the attack, Rohit gave him full respect leaving deliveries as late as the thirtieth over.

The frequent rain breaks didn’t help Rohit’s and India’s cause. Some may argue that Rohit should have thrown caution to the wind a bit earlier given India has a long batting line-up but having two new men at the crease right after a break in a pressure game like India vs Pakistan could have given Pakistan an opening to capitalise on.

Rohit started shifting gears in the thirty-sixth over driving Wahab Riaz on the up and then nonchalantly hitting him for a six over midwicket. We all know how good Rohit is at accelerating in the final overs and another big hundred seemed on the cards in his comeback game. However, he was run out the very next over after his bat popped up while sliding it into the crease.

Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, and Hardik Pandya took India to a winning total with their late hitting, but it was all made possible by the kind of start provided to them by Rohit and Dhawan. Team India would no doubt be pleased with their overall batting and bowling effort but runs at the top in the very first game of the tournament would delight the team management as it was one area where there were question marks before the tournament.

In the past, Rohit has played some great one-day innings that are remembered for his breathtaking strokeplay. This one will be remembered more for his maturity. He played out spells where he wasn’t able to score freely but didn’t throw it away with a rash shot. Captaining a team at IPL level seems to have helped the mental part of his game.

Perhaps the time away from the game has allowed Rohit to refocus on taking his career to newer heights. Rohit is in his thirties now, an age where many batsmen in the past have enjoyed their best years. India will be hoping Rohit retains his hunger for big runs over the next few years to enter the echelons of India’s all-time batting greats.

Updated Date: Jun 05, 2017 17:51 PM

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