Two straight ducks after 14 months of hiatus.
Perpetually under pressure for an average T20 record.
And then you witness your side collapse to 22/4 in less than five overs.
The setting couldn’t have been more anticlimactic for Rohit Sharma in the third and final T20I at the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
But how did he respond to it? With his fifth T20I century and first since 2018. When India needed their skipper to rise to the occasion, the Mumbaikar didn’t just step up but roared - with a perfect blend of caution and aggression that’s so typical of Rohit Sharma.
When he got to his century with a slice over point for a four, There was no “Talk Nah” or “Shut the outside noise” celebration. A simple walk to his partner Rinku Singh, a fist bump, and a hug. He meant business.
It had taken the Indian opener a while to come to terms with the two-paced nature of the wicket. At one point, he was on 27 in his first 30 balls. This was the first time in T20Is that Rohit had a strike rate of less than 100 in his first 30 balls. But with wickets collapsing around him, it was only sensible of him to stick around and let the time do the magic.
There was a certain sense of intrigue around his approach too. Even though the time demanded him to employ that, the chatter about his inability to take off had already started. But Rohit couldn’t care less about his approach - knowing very well that if you’d stick around, the result would automatically follow.
He also had a patient Rinku Singh to thank for. Instead of throwing in the towel, the Uttar Pradesh batter provided a calming touch. Make no mistake - unlike his demeanor, Rinku was chasing hell for leather, but with calculated aggression. When Ibrahim Zadran brought the mid-on a little squarer, Rinku took on Sharafuddin Ashraf for a four. In the 12th over, Qais Ahmad was sent down for six - and things had stabilized for India.
Then it only made sense to maximize the advantage in the last five overs. It was right in the alley for Rohit and Rinku. What they did after that would not only demoralize the Afghanistan team further but also add a new chapter in the Rohit folklore. The duo collected 22 runs off Saleem Safi in the 16th over followed by another 22-run over against Azmatullah Omarzai and a 36-run over against Karim Janat in the last two overs.
From relative obscurity of 22/4, India finished with 212/4.
That was the magic of Rohit Sharma. Tonight’s Chinnaswamy blitzkrieg might be an outlier and it might eventually reverse to the mean the next time India take on the field, but then you don’t often see someone hit the ball with so much effortless ease as Rohit did against Afghanistan. When that happens again, Indian cricket fans can afford to be hopeful of their skipper.
The World Cup is still five months away and it is difficult to assume anything. Whether Rohit Sharma will be a part of the squad or not will depend on a lot of extraneous factors - no less than Hardik Pandya’s return in the Indian Premier League. It’s been more than six years since Rohit has done something significant in the IPL and expecting him to suddenly become a consistent run-maker would be asking too much.
But no matter what happens five months down the line, there was simply no comparison to his unbeaten 121-run unbeaten knock in Bengaluru. Whether it adds to his legacy or not, Rohit has certainly rolled the years back.
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