"If we are playing well, we cannot retire hurt and come back inside,” - Rohit Sharma. © BCCI

“If we are playing well, we cannot retire hurt and come back inside,” – Rohit Sharma. © BCCI

Rohit Sharma, India’s vice-captain who hit a match-winning 115 in the fifth One-Day International, ranked the series win against South Africa as one of the most important in his career, putting it alongside the tri-series triumph in Australia in 2008.

In terms of a bilateral series win, Rohit said India taking a 4-1 lead with one game to play and thus sealing the series on Tuesday (February 13) was as significant as beating Australia 2-0 in the finals of the tri-series.

“This is a good win because this was a bilateral series. Before this, we won the CB tri-series in Australia. Even that series was quite tough. For me, it is difficult to compare the two,” said Rohit at St George’s Park after India won the fifth ODI by 73 runs. “It is difficult to say which series means more but I think this series means a lot to us. The way we played from the first game, we have dominated the series, and the result is there for all to see.

“This will be right up there. After 25 years, we have won a series in South Africa,” added Rohit. “It’s not the easiest place to play cricket, definitely not the easiest place to win a series. A lot of credit to the boys. Everybody who got an opportunity put his hand up and took up the challenge. If you look at the entire ODI series, it was a dominant performance from us. It will only give us confidence as a team to go outside and keep winning those series. The Test series was very close, I believe. It could have gone either way. Anyway, we are very proud of our performance and very proud of what we achieved today.”

Rohit’s century broke a lean trot for him, and meant that in four of the five ODIs in the series, India have had at least one centurion among their top three. Virat Kohli made tons in the first and third ODIs, while Shikhar Dhawan did so in the fourth. In the second, South Africa had been bowled out for just 118, which meant that realistically no one could score a hundred in India’s nine-wicket win.

Rohit said one of the game-plans was to have one among the top three at least bat through the innings. While that has worked out well for India, it has also meant that the lower middle order has not had that many opportunities to bat. “The bulk of the scoring has been done by the top three-four guys,” agreed Rohit.

“I know our middle order hasn’t gotten enough opportunities. If their batting doesn’t come, one cannot do anything. If we are playing well, we cannot retire hurt and come back inside,” he added with a smile.

“The series we have played before in India, and in the Champions Trophy too, a lot of the scoring has been done by the top three guys,” said Rohit. “It augurs well for the team also. We always talk about one batsman batting through the innings, and that is what we are trying to do. The top three have got the best opportunity to do that because they get to play the maximum balls. It’s a responsibility for all three of us, that whoever is set amongst the three of us has to try and play long.”

India had arrived in South Africa towards the end of December 2017, and went down 2-1 in the Test series. In the ODIs, the visiting side has been very dominant, winning the first three matches by big margins. South Africa kept their record of not losing a Pink Day match intact with victory in the fourth game in Johannesburg, but India reasserted their dominance in Port Elizabeth for a first-ever bilateral series win on South African soil.

The sixth and final game of the series in Centurion on Friday is now a dead rubber, but Rohit said there would be no let-up from the Indian side, which is eying a 5-1 scoreline.

“Every game that we play is important, irrespective of whether we have won the series or not,” emphasised. “Every game that you play for your country is important. We will approach that game in the same manner that we approached the last five games. It is important to keep doing the right things because it doesn’t happen very often in South Africa that you are 4-1 up and we will definitely try to make it 5-1 at Centurion.”