The recent Sri Lanka series was a struggle for Rohit Sharma and there aren’t too many other polite ways of putting it. The eager strut to the batting crease often transformed into a feared walk back and by the time he was dismissed in the last game of that series, the writing was on the wall.
Or so one thought anyway. That Rohit got selected to the World T20 squad was more than surprising, to the extent it spawned off many a joke in the social media at the Mumbai batsman’s expense.
Given this background, like for Yuvraj Singh, Habhajan Singh and L Balaji who were all making a comeback to the side for different reasons, these two warm-up games were expected to be crucial for Rohit. Especially with a run-scoring Manoj Tiwary waiting in the wings to snatch that middle-order position away for now.
The Sri Lanka game was almost his last chance to eke out a place for himself in the starting 11. With India struggling at 46/3 in that game and Gautam Gambhir out because of his wrist injury, Rohit entered the scene with his back to the ball. What he also had was a platform quite ideal to prove his worth.
Soon Yuvraj Singh was dismissed as well and in MS Dhoni, Rohit was joined by a perfect partner. His captain, who has often showed more faith in him than your average Joe, has an uncanny knack of lifting the game of those at the other end.
In a 78-run stand between the two, Dhoni overcame a sluggish start to get to a half-century while Rohit got a vital 37.
It might be too early to say this but it could well be the knock that changes his current disposition.
Immediately following that 37, Rohit knived through the Pakistani bowling to help himself to a half-century; a 56 that came off only 40 balls. Interestingly, it was Virat Kohli at the other end, he of the no-batting-care-in-the-world fame.
Much like his stand with Dhoni, Rohit took advantage of Kohli’s good form to play himself in. He took 15 balls for his first 14 runs but it was more of a case of him waiting for the most opportune moment to launch into an assertive.
The sweep was leashed to a delivery from Mohammad Hafeez and a few careful nudges later, Rohit made use of the shortish length of the deliveries from Shahid Afridi in the 14th over. One went over the deep square-leg fielder, the other was cut backward of point.
Now in his elements, Rohit crashed a couple of boundaries off Umar Gul and then greeted Sohail Tanvir’s re-entry into the attack with a shot that is his signature – a languid loft over mid-wicket that invariably crosses the fence on the full.
Unfortunately for Rohit and for Kohli, India’s bowling never managed to provide them with the support they deserved as Pakistan chased down the target with almost an over to spare.
For a man so desperate for runs, the knock couldn’t have come at a better time. And having been there, with his form at the lowest, he probably related with the plight the Indian bowling found itself in the game.
When asked about whether he felt frustrated at having ended on a losing side despite his batting effort, Rohit had this to offer: It was one of those bad days with the ball. The last game the bowlers defended a low score against Sri Lanka, which wasn’t even a par score, so I am confident they will make a comeback.”
Sterner tests lie ahead for Rohit given that these two were only warm-up games. But for now, the two knocks should be a source of a much more relaxed mind. He said it in as many words, “These last two innings have given me a lot of confidence, were important from a personal point of view. I want to keep myself very calm and composed and keep playing like this.”
Whether or not he gets selected in the playing 11 will depend on the combination that MS Dhoni opts for but by working himself back to some form, he certainly has given his captain an extra option.
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org