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The Economic Times

The new Rohit Sharma in full flow

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Indian cricket seemed to bend over backwards to ensure Rohit succeeded. He got a longer rope than anyone would when he was going through a bad patch. The batting order was shuffled to accommodate him.
By Anand Vasu

For the longest time, Rohit Sharma has been the envy of almost every batsman in India. He has more time to play his shots and he has every shot in the book. He can score at a strike rate of 200 without playing one agricultural shot. He can build innings, batting right through 50 overs, accelerating with deadly accuracy, picking his moment and the bowlers he wants to attack.

But, there was also envy because Indian cricket seemed to bend over backwards to ensure Rohit succeeded. He got a longer rope than anyone would when he was going through a bad patch. The batting order was shuffled to accommodate him. Players were dropped just so that Rohit could fit into the eleven in Test cricket. But, none of that really mattered, for even if Indian cricket did all it could to fulfil what was thought to be a prophecy written years ago, it wasn’t until Rohit himself believed that the potential could be translated into performance in red-ball cricket.

It wasn’t until Rohit began chasing the right things — not the ball outside off — that Rohit the Test batsman emerged, as expected, a dazzling butterfly, from the cocoon of the confused struggler in the longest form of the game.

His 212 against South Africa in the third Test in Ranchi showed glimpses of the old Rohit. There were times when he was too anxious to go after the bowling. There were times when he got himself into positions that could only result in ball beating bat. But, what’s different about the new Rohit is that he did not throw it away.

While previously the frustration was that he did all the hard work and then found a way to get himself out, here was an innings in which he dug deep and found a way to get past the inevitable setbacks that come your way when you play a long innings.

Add to this the fact that India were 39 for 3 on the opening day, South Africa’s quicks, Kagiso Rabada in particular, bowling with fire, skill and finesse, and the manner in which Rohit changed the complexion of the game is all the more remarkable. And in doing so, he could not have asked for a better foil than Mumbai state mate Ajinkya Rahane.

Rahane, who is a curious Indian batsman in that he built his portfolio of success in Test cricket overseas and then struggled somewhat to replicate this in home conditions, has one unusual quality to him. It is as though Rahane does not make easy runs. Even his overseas hundreds have come when the team has needed them the most, when wickets have fallen early on when the ball is doing plenty.

And, Rahane’s journey in Test cricket has been pretty much the opposite of Rohit’s. After all, he’s the kind of player who has been left out of the XI even when he has been vice-captain. At the slightest sign of weakness, or when a string of low scores bump into each other, Rahane is the first one to get the chop. At times, even when tinkering with the balance of the team, getting the right bowling and allround combinations, Rahane has had to make way.

On Sunday, he looked at the top of his game, and the easiest way to see this is when he attacks the spinners, thoughtfully and confidently. While Rohit used the sweep and the heave over midwicket, allied with lusty blows down the ground, Rahane is adept at getting to the pitch of the ball and smothering the spin. Once done, his hands work their magic, whether driving through the off side with the face of the bat open or whipping through midwicket with a strong bottom hand. Rahane’s 115, in a 267-run fourthwicket partnership, was put in the shade by Rohit.

After all, Rohit became only the second Indian opener to score three centuries in a series, after the great Sunil Gavaskar back in 1978. The innings also took Rohit’s average at home to 99.84 taking him past Sir Don Bradman who scored at 98.22 per innings in Australia. The platform that Rohit and Rahane built allowed the rest of the Indian willow wielders who came later to swing for the fences, and India could declare at 497 for 9, meaning that South Africa have not bowled the home side out even once in this series.

And, as is so often the case, the bowlers piled on the agony, two South African batsmen being bounced out with not too many on the board. Even the bad light and rain that has interrupted this Test may not be enough to bail South Africa out.
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