For all the acclaim Rohit Sharma has received over his career, the word ‘best’ is rarely used to describe his batting. Coming through the ranks, he was anointed the heir apparent to Sachin Tendulkar, a pedestal subsequently occupied by Virat Kohli. He was considered the best proponent of the Mumbai school of batting, but didn’t display the ruthlessness and hunger that’s its characteristic trait, especially in his earlier days and especially in the longer format. He is not even considered the best player in the current team.
But when it comes to the 50-over World Cups, Rohit is in a league of his own. The batsman with the most hundreds – his seventh coming in Wednesday’s eight-wicket thrashing of Afghanistan, India’s second win in two matches in the tournament – he invariably shines when he gets on a roll in the 50-over format, as his three ODI double hundreds would attest.
Moreover, Tendulkar took 44 innings to get his six World Cup hundreds over six editions. Rohit needed just 19 knocks over three tournaments to get to seven, with five coming in 2019 alone. The latest ton came off just 63 deliveries, the fastest for an Indian in the World Cup.
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As far as ODIs in general are concerned, with his 31st ton, Rohit went past Ricky Ponting to be third on the list of batsmen with most centuries, with only Tendulkar and Kohli above him. He also went past Chris Gayle for the most sixes in international cricket. That is some legacy for a player not considered the best in his generation.
It was his innings that made a target of 273 seem like at least 100 too few, with the home team surpassing it with 15 overs to spare.
As far as aesthetics are concerned, there are few who are easier on the eye. Rohit seems to have more time when he bats than less mortals. But on Wednesday, it seemed as if he was batting in the highlights, such was the frequency of fours and sixes. Admittedly, the flat Kotla pitch and friendly Afghan attack played a part, but the 16 fours and five sixes spelt utter domination.
During optional practice on the eve of the game, Rohit had given a glimpse of what was in store for the match. The India captain, who didn’t trouble the scorers in the previous game against Australia, was looking in zen mode. The net bowlers faced the brunt and a day later, it was time for the Afghan bowlers.
Rohit teed off with a clip in the third over off Fazalhaq Farooqi . He reached 1,000 runs in the World Cup, the joint-fastest, with a six over wide long-off in the next over of the left-armer, whose fourth over went for 17.
Rohit reached his fifty in 30 balls and the next fifty came off 33.
Rohit’s pull shots were typically regal as the Kotla was won over. After he was clean bowled by Rashid Khan, the Indian captain received a standing ovation from the capital’s cricket faithful. Next batsman Kohli raced towards him to give a hug and a gentle tap on his helmet.
Now it was Kohli’s turn to entertain the home crowd, and he did so with a delightful and effortless fifty. He remained unbeaten on 55 and finished the game with a four. Ishan Kishan (47) and Shreyas Iyer (25 not out) also got some game time in the middle. Rashid bagged the two wickets that fell in India’s innings.
Earlier, Afghanistan skipper Hasmatullah Shahidi walked the talk and played a quality knock of 80. It was his 121-run stand for the fourth wicket with young Azmatullah Omarazai, who scored a feisty 62, which allowed Afghanistan to post a respectable total.
“You need to put runs on the board to win matches,” Shahidi had said on the eve of the match. But on a pitch where 350 looked like a par total, 272 was a walk in the park. Afghanistan’s scoring rate slump between the 35th and 45th overs, when they kept losing wickets. As it turned out, judging by the manner in which the Indian skipper batted, it wouldn’t have made a difference.
For India, Jasprit Bumrah was the pick of the bowlers, taking four scalps for 39 runs, his best figures in a World Cup game. Left-arm Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav (1/40) was hit for a few sixes by Omarzai, but bowled decently on a flat surface. For Ravindra Jadeja, the ball did not turn much, but he also managed to keep the Afghan batsmen in check. It was a poor outing for Mohammed Siraj, who was all over the place and conceded 76 runs in his nine wicketless overs.
India will now travel to Ahmedabad for the highly-anticipated clash against Pakistan on Saturday. Both the teams have won their two matches in convincing fashion. On Tuesday, Pakistan rewrote the record books, chasing down 345 to beat Sri Lanka.
Pakistan have not beaten India in their seven meetings in the 50-over World Cup so far. But maybe, the two neighbours can provide something that has been lacking in the World Cup so far – a close match.
That’s not too much to ask, surely.