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 in Kolkata 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.
The demoralised Sri Lankans only mustered 251 all out in 43.1 overs in response, giving India a 153-run victory and extending their lead in the series to 4-0. The headlines, doubtless, will be all about how Rohit beat Sri Lanka by 13 runs.
The Cricket Association of Bengal, already in a festive mood and celebrating 150 years of Eden Gardens, immediately announced a cash prize of Rs 264,000 to Rohit. The value that the 50,000-plus who packed the stands got, though, was far greater than a thousand rupees per each Rohit run.
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 Eranga’s first over, Rohit’s wild slash resulted in a thick edge to third man, where Thisara gave him a lifeline. Rahane (28 off 24) did all the early hitting, but was also the first to fall, done in by Angelo Mathews with a ball that cut in and rapped him on the pads. Eranga was rewarded for an impressive first spell with the wicket of Ambati Raydu, who played down the wrong line to a peach, bowled wider off the crease and straightening to take out offstump. That left India 59 for 2 in 13 overs, and remained the last time the match was competitive.
Rohit, batting on 20 off 35 at that stage, kicked into gear, sending the bowlers for a leather hunt. His third-wicket stand with Kohli produced 202 runs off a mere 155 deliveries.
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.
No bowler went unpunished, and Kohli took the Power Play after 29 overs. That 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 Rohit, in complete command in the middle, was simply toying with the bowlers. India took 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 that wasn’t on.
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 and keeping the bowling side on the defensive.
Far from chastening him, Kohli’s exit simply spurred Rohit on to greater hitting. Mathews was dismissed for a stunning pulled six over midwicket and Ajantha 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. The droop on Sri Lankan shoulders was visible, though.
Rohit wasn’t finished yet, and it seemed the fielders weren’t done giving him chances either. Immediately after the double, Seekuge 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 taken 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 a fifth-wicket stand worth 128 off 58 balls, Robin Uthappa’s contribution was 16 off 16.
Sri Lanka’s batting seemed to carry over its sloppiness from fielding, though in fairness, they were up against a nigh-insurmountable total. What faint hope might have been there of challenging the Indian bowlers evaporated when Kusal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Jayawardene and Tillakartne Dilshan were gone inside 10 overs with the score 48 for 4.
Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, showed good touch in getting to 75 off 68, while Thirimanne furthered his cause with 59 off 69, but these were stray pockets of good Sri Lankan performances. So massive was the total, that even a Thisara blast that realised 23 runs off one Karn Sharma over hardly made a dent on the required rate.
Among the Indian bowlers, Umesh Yadav (2 for 38) continued to be the pick of the lot, having started the slide by sending back Kusal off the third ball of the chase, and causing problems with the zip he generated. Dhawal Kulkarni had the best bowling figures, ensuring an early end to the chase with three wickets in six balls on his way to 4 for 34.
This night, though, was all about Rohit. He unfurled a modified helicopter shot, there was a late cut, here was a brutal pull – and interspersed liberally between were drives pre-ordered directly from the gods. All footnotes in the large canvas painted by Rohit.