Rohit hit 33 fours and 9 sixes in his knock of 264 as India posted 404/5 after opting to bat. © Getty Images

Rohit hit 33 fours and 9 sixes in his knock of 264 as India posted 404/5 after opting to bat. © Getty Images

On the eve of India’s fourth One-Day International against Sri Lanka, Virat Kohli said Rohit Sharma could be “India’s X-factor”. Mahela Jayawardene said Rohit would be motivated since he was on a comeback and would perform at his peak.

It took a little over two hours for Rohit to prove both men right on Thursday (November 13). Off the first ball of the 32nd over, Rohit turned Shaminda Eranga towards midwicket to complete the single that brought him a fifth ODI hundred, made his peace with the almighty by pointing repeatedly skywards, and then sunk to his knees to acknowledge the Eden Gardens roars and his teammates’ applause.

At that point, he was less than halfway done. When he became the first man to hit two double tons in ODIs, the celebrations were more muted. When he hit two successive sixes to go past Virender Sehwag’s mark of the highest ODI score, it barely registered. When he was finally done, he had 264 off 173, dismissed off the last ball of the innings, caught at long off. Almost in a sub-text, India amassed 404 for 5 after opting to bat.

It could have all gone very differently for India and Rohit, if Thisara Perera hadn’t made a mess of a regulation chance as early as the fifth over. The Mumbai duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit had given India a sound start, with Rahane blazing away at the top. That suited Rohit, who always likes to take his time to settle in, just fine.

In Shaminda Eranga’s first over, Rohit’s wild slash resulted in a thick edge to third man, where Perera gave him a lifeline.

Sri Lanka didn’t look initially as if they would rue that drop too much, with Rohit continuing to be circumspect and Rahane doing the early hitting. Rahane (28 off 24) was also the first to fall, done in by Angelo Mathews with a ball that cut in and rapped him on the pads for the umpire to uphold the appeal.

Sri Lanka had further success when Eranga, who bowled an impressive first spell, got his reward with a beauty that uprooted Ambati Rayudu’s offstump. Bowling from wider of the crease, Eranga got one to straighten and Rayudu played down the wrong line, leaving India 59 for 2 in 13 overs.

At that stage, Rohit was 20 off 35, and had just begun looking more comfortable. What followed was a leather hunt for Sri Lanka’s bowlers as the third-wicket stand with Kohli produced 202 runs off a mere 155 deliveries.

Rohit opened out once Rayudu fell, and just progressed from strength to strength, allowing Kohli to find his groove, which the Indian captain did fairly quickly.

The shift from accumulation to acceleration was so smooth that it almost wouldn’t have been noticeable – except for those who kept an eye on the scoreboard. Rohit started finding the boundary every over, and Kohli was never kept quiet for any length of time.

The returning Ajantha Mendis was dismissed down the ground, while Seekuge Prasanna’s legspin was deftly manoeuvred into gaps on both sides of the wicket. Kohli took the Power Play after 29 overs, which opened the floodgates, with Nuwan Kulasekara dismissed for 16 runs in the first over, and Rohit moving into the 90s.

The century followed soon after, and brought further joy to India. Rohit, in complete command in the middle, was simply toying with the bowlers. India plundered 57 runs from the Power Play, and the stand ended the only way it could have, Kohli run out after being called through for a second run. The ball had been misfielded at long-on and Rohit was the one running to the danger end, but there was still enough time to throw the ball to the ’keeper and leave Kohli well short.

The skipper’s 64-ball 66 was a well-constructed innings, and in any other ODI it would have been held up as an exemplar in rotating strike, finding the boundaries off bad balls and keeping the bowling side on the defensive.

Far from chastening him, Kohli’s exit simply spurred Rohit on to greater hitting. Mathews as dismissed for a stunning pulled six over midwicket and Mendis was left with nowhere to hide after his seventh over produced four boundaries, each to a different part of the ground.

The double century was raised with a smooth drive to the extra cover fence off Kulasekara. This time, there were only raised arms, no pumping fists.

Before this match, the buzz was there was low interest in the apparently ‘dead’ rubber. But ‘low interest’ is just as much of a relative term at Eden Gardens as dead rubber. It merely meant the ground was only three quarters full. When Rohit got to his double, the Eden faithfuls made enough noise for all those who had missed out on tickets, and then some.

Rohit wasn’t yet done with the Sri Lankan bowlers, and it seemed, the fielders weren’t yet done giving him chances either. Immediately after the double, Prasanna put down a mishit at the midwicket fence that was as straightforward as they come, and later on, Lahiru Thirimanne ran backwards but couldn’t hold on to another slogged hit in the long-off region.

Not that it seemed to affect Rohit any. He had sat out since August, seen his favourite opening spot given away and was on trial when brought back. The matter of raising 250 seemed a mere formality for one who had brought to life the oft-repeated cliché of ‘he dealt only in boundaries’. In the fifth-wicket stand with Robin Uthappa worth 128 off 58 balls, Uthappa’s contribution was 16 off 16.

There was a modified helicopter shot, here was a late cut, and interspersed liberally between were drives that were pre-ordered directly from the gods.

The only thing ugly on a night that no one who witnessed it will forget, were the Sri Lanka bowlers’ figures. A mere footnote in the large canvas painted by Rohit.