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By Partab Ramchand
Rohit Sharma has certainly silenced his critics. As one who has steadfastly maintained for some time now that he is potentially the best young batsman in the country, I always allowed myself a wry smile when I read criticism that he has been given enough opportunities and has not delivered. My mind, during times like these, goes back to the early fifties when the Australian selectors blooded Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson. Despite opportunities the two did not initially come up with performances that justified their inclusion but the selectors persevered with them, convinced that, in their case, it was a case of potential far outweighing performance. Sure enough the far sighted approach paid off and in due course the two became match winning all rounders while Benaud also went on to become one of the shrewdest skippers in the history of the game.
Actually even after his two successive hundreds in the ongoing tri series in Zimbabwe, it must be admitted that the figures against Rohit’s name are not the eye rubbing or mind boggling type. The statistics are rather modest for in ODIs he averages a shade over 31, is a little short of the 1000-run mark after 42 innings and his strike rate of just under 77 is slightly below par. But one can say with some authority that his best lies ahead. He has also displayed his prowess in Twenty20 – he was a member of the World Cup winning side in South Africa three years ago – and I would like to think that he is one of the front runners for the one of the middle order berths in the Test side once `the big three’ - Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid - call it a day. If further proof is required one has only to glance at his first class figures which include a career average of 55, an unbeaten triple hundred and the rare feat of a century in each innings in a Ranji Trophy final.
Rohit might have silenced his critics now but he has already wowed the experts. Ian Chappell for one predicted a "huge future" for him just after seeing him for a short while in the CB series in Australia a couple of years ago. The acerbic former Australian captain is not given to hyperbole and for him to come out with a comment like that is quite unexpected. But then in some prodigiously talented youngsters it is not the scores but the batting approach that is the subject of discussion and it is here that Rohit has come up trumps. Anyone who sees Rohit make 30 or 40 is immediately aware of the fact that he is watching a player of uncommon gifts – a cricketer who in racing parlance is a stayer not a sprinter. He certainly looks like a long term prospect. Even in slam bang cricket his batting is an ideal blend of the solid and the spectacular. There is a place for defence, for circumspection even in ODIs and Rohit displays impeccable technique.
His strokes can be straight from the textbook or of the innovative variety. For one so young he has shown remarkable maturity in his batting approach.
This was displayed in unmistakable terms during his century against Sri Lanka. When he and Virat Kohli joined forces India were rather precariously placed at 47 for two in the tenth over in pursuit of a victory target of 243. But he just shrugged off the crisis situation and remained cool, calm and unhurried. Fully aware that the asking rate was about five an over he adopted a methodical approach. There was a judicious blend of innovative shots and text book strokes and ere long it was clear that India were coasting to victory. Rohit not only got his second successive century but was there at the finish. His hundred against Zimbabwe too was a commendable effort for even if the bowling admittedly was not very it must be remembered that he rescued India from the mire of 61 for three and enabled them to get to a competitive total of 285 for five.
Young players coming good is a most encouraging sight and in the case of Rohit who is 23 it must be said that he combines style with substance. He is not one to rest on his laurels. One can already see him notch up many more valuable scores in limited overs cricket before he inevitably makes the transition to the Test arena but as I said more than the runs it will continue to be his batting style that should garner particular attention.