Rohit Sharma, the India vice-captain, has been in terrific form in 2017. The stylish right-hand opener scored his fifth One-Day International century of the year and 15th overall in the decider against New Zealand in Kanpur to play a key role in India’s nail-biting six-run victory on Sunday (October 29).
Rohit, who was adjudged the Man of the Match for his 138-ball 147, became only the second batsman after Virat Kohli to pile up over 1000 runs this year. The Mumbai batsman and his captain, who himself went past 9000 ODI runs, added 230 for the second wicket, their fourth 200-plus partnership, to help India post a commendable 337 for 6.
Rohit revealed that he was extra careful against New Zealand’s new-ball pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and once the shine of the ball was gone, he and Kohli, who scored 106-ball 113, took the attack to the opposition. “When I started off, I started off very cautiously because I understand the threat of Southee and Boult with the new ball,” said Rohit, who also became the sixth Indian batsman to hit 150 sixes in ODIs, on Sunday night.
“They can bowl those wicket-taking deliveries any time. I have to be more than careful to handle that threat. And once the shine of the ball was gone, it was about me not making mistakes and getting out. I have played here (at Green Park) a few times now and I understand the nature of the wicket. The most important thing about my batting today was the partnership. Once you get stuck in the partnership, it’s always difficult (for the bowlers). You play those risk-taking shots and that didn’t happen till we got to 200. I was just playing my natural game. The loose balls that I got, I was just trying to put them away.
“The partnership is very important because if you keep the scoreboard ticking, it makes your job easier. It’s all about rotating the strike, finding those odd boundaries in the middle. And once you get to 100, again unless you make a mistake, you are not going to get out. I think I got out in the 40th or 41st over, but I thought till then, we had the situation under control and we had nine wickets in hand. I had to go for the shots to up the run rate because we had a few of the guys waiting to come and play. So that’s what I did, the wicket was really good to bat on and I enjoyed my time.”
Before reaching Kanpur for the final encounter, Rohit didn’t look in great touch in the previous two matches in Mumbai and Pune. While Rohit didn’t make any huge changes batting, he did have a word with Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, to focus on some minor things. “There will be failures at times. It doesn’t mean you need to change a whole lot,” he pointed out.
“You need to focus on little things. I was trying to do that. Watching my video. Talking to our batting coaches. I like to follow my routine, which is to just understand the nature of the wicket and what shots you need to play. For example, in Mumbai, the ball bounces nicely, here that was not the case. Shot selection is very important at different venues. Here it was all about seeing off the new ball and then just carrying on the partnership, rotating the strike and things like that.
“Mentally I didn’t have to change much. When you are in good form, you like to play shots and get the team to a good start. In Pune, I took my time and got out. Here it was a different situation and a different innings that I played. I took a little bit of time initially. You get value for your shots. The outfield is lightning fast, so it was just about timing the ball really well.”
Since 2010, India have only lost two bilateral ODI series – against Pakistan and South Africa – at home and are on a run of seven series wins. When New Zealand came to India this month, not many expected them to give the home side a stiff battle, but the fight shown by Kane Williamson’s men throughout the series always kept India on their toes.
Chasing a massive 338-run target, Colin Munro, Williamson, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls batted their hearts out before messing it up in the final overs. “There are no easy wins. Whichever team you play, as an Indian team we always do try and do our best,” said Rohit.
“You don’t see the opposition and play. Yes, even when we played against Australia, they tested us a number of times and we responded well to the situations and won the games. Again New Zealand here, the first game in Mumbai I thought we didn’t put enough runs on the board. But again the last two games we played we showed a lot of character, we came back from tough situations… Yes, today we were under pressure at times but that is the hallmark of this team – to come back from tough situations whenever we play and respond to that situation really well. We knew that it wasn’t going to be that easy because there was a lot of dew on the field.
“Williamson’s wicket. Munro’s wicket. Latham. Henry Nicholls. We had to break that partnership (Latham-Nicholls) and Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) did that. So there were a number of game-changing moments. Our bowlers did exceptionally well to come back every now and then. That’s what we expect as a team from this bowling unit. Whenever they are put under pressure, they know how to come back. It’s not happened once, it has happened many times now. It’s a good thing for the team going forward. If you can respond to these situations really well, as a team you are only going to grow.”
Despite taking a pounding on Sunday, Bhuvneshwar has been India’s most successful bowler in recent times alongside Jasprit Bumrah. While Bhuvneshwar was smoked for 92 runs off his 10 overs, Bumrah picked up 3 for 47 to single-handedly swing the pendulum in India’s favour. Rohit said it wouldn’t have been possible for India to clinch the series if not for these twos courageous efforts. “I think we have the two best death bowlers,” praised Rohit.
“If you look at the last series against Australia, the way they have bowled, you have to praise them a lot. If you look at Australia’s batting, with their power hitting, those were the two bowlers who got us back most of the times. Even today there was so much dew, the ball was wet, to be able to defend on that kind of wicket, with two set batsmen, we are talking about two best death bowlers in the world currently. On this wicket, in these conditions, only 35 required in four overs, it should have been made easily. It is only because of these two that we could pull the game back.”