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Reliving the 161 by Rohit Sharma – A Fan’s Point of View

Rohit Sharma is someone I have admired for more than a decade. His performance in the inaugural T20 World Cup, that partnership with Sachin in the 2008 CB series, to then him becoming the opening batsman for India in the 2013 Champions Trophy which skyrocketed his white-ball career. The multiple double hundreds, the ease of his pull shot, the elegance of his drives, the smash in his square cuts, the authority in his backfoot punches, and the swagger in his flicks, Rohit Sharma has always been the player I have looked up for in this decade. His batting is like watching the most mesmerizing of magic tricks and the calmness in his game is extremely soothing.

Rohit Sharma had a bad 1st Test at Chepauk and looked desperate to cash in this time (Image Source: Wasim Jaffer Twitter)

When Rohit Sharma came out to bat, I knew that a huge section of cricket fans were extremely annoyed with him. His ability to deal with the moving and zipping red ball was doubted. Fair enough because everyone knew Rohit always has more to offer. All I could wish for that he would silence the naysayers! As soon as India won the toss in the 2nd Test, I nervously got myself ready to watch Rohit Sharma bat, just like all the other times.

Stuart Broad came charging in to bowl the first ball of the first innings of the second test with Rohit on strike. Rohit played the ball comfortably off the backfoot and looking at the ease of the shot I knew it was game on! The intent with which he looked back at the bowler and knocked the pitch down with his bat showed that Rohit Sharma means business today.

India lost Shubman early and I realized straight away that the pressure on Rohit will only increase now. At the same time, I also felt that maybe with the assurance of Pujara at the other end, Rohit would play his shots. The first runs came off his bat when he drove Broad through the covers on his 7th ball to get off the mark with a boundary. A shot of elegance and intent!

Rohit Sharma had decided that he would be aggressive against Broad with his footwork and not let him settle. After a nervy moment, Rohit hit Broad for another boundary this time straight down the ground on his front foot. I would be lying if I said I haven’t watched that again and again. The strategy seemed to be working despite the fact he was making every Rohit Sharma fan in the world including me and his teammates extremely nervous and I could only be on the edge of my seat with him chipping the ball over mid-on in the next over of Broad. To be fair to Broad, Rohit also decided to take on his bowling partner with a smashing cut past gully for four.

Ben Stokes came on the bowl for England and it seemed that his variation on this slower turning pitch could be handy for England. With Pujara being the wall at the other end, Rohit knew that he simply couldn’t allow Stokes to get into a rhythm and then dominate. Rohit Sharma welcomes Ben Stokes will a lovely square drive to the boundary and subtly yet sent a strong message to Stokes about the treatment he will receive. The second ball of Stokes’ next over was pulled into the stands. Not gonna lie, I was nervous when the ball was in the air. His love affair with the pull shot continued when he pulled the next ball along the carpet between deep square leg and fine leg to the boundary. As it turned out, it was Stokes’ last over of the innings.

Rohit Sharma’s first stuttering moment of the innings came against his nemesis in the last innings Jack Leach. The outside edge fell short of Ben Stokes at slip, while I along with millions other took a collective sigh of relief. What we saw from the next over onwards was a new tactic of Rohit Sharma. He effectively swept the second ball of Leach to the boundary and he repeated the same feat a ball later to complete his half-century. “Keep going Ro! Keep going!” is all I could say at that moment.

Rohit Sharma made a couple of technical adjustments according to me in this innings! First, his stationary backfoot while playing spin seemed more flexible which is why he could get a longer stride forward and play the sweep shot while also being decisive in defense while on the backfoot he played it extremely late. His bat coming down and the wrist work on the sweep shot was a masterclass in itself. Second, he made it clear to himself that if the ball is there to be hit, he will not be tentative and that he would give his everything to make sure it will end up with the fielding running beyond the boundary.

As I started to celebrate a little in my head about this innings, he hit Moeen Ali to the boundary with his trademark cut of the backfoot, twice in the over. The nervousness resurfaced back into me as India lost Pujara and Kohli back to back to Leach and Ali. This meant that Rohit Sharma now had to also be the anchor while trying to dominate the English bowlers. The Hitman gracefully took it in his stride as the modified sweep shot came in handy again against Moeen Ali. But I felt it was the wristy on-drive against Jack Leach to take the Indian score to a 100 that showed the control and dominance of Rohit Sharma in the first session. Rohit Sharma and his fellow Mumbaikar Rahane took India safely to Lunch on Day 1.

The Hitman capitalized on his start in the first session and converted it into a century to rejoice and remember for years (Image Source: BCCI Twitter)

Rohit Sharma took a liking to Moeen Ali again in the second session as he played a similar delivery in two different styles in two different overs. The first time, he swept him away to square leg for a boundary, the second he tonked over long-off while steeping down the track for a six. Moeen Ali didn’t know where to look, where to go, and more importantly, where to bowl!

A nervous two overs followed after that wherein an attempt to be cheeky to get to his hundred, Rohit Sharma almost played a paddle sweep to midwicket, talk about getting something wrong in key moments. I have never seen Rohit have a nervous ninety moment but the pressure of the occasion seemed to have an edge on him. The smile was still there but inside the pressure was simmering. The sheer audacity of Rohit Sharma is what I fell in love with all those years back. That audacity gives me panic attacks every time he takes the field. It was that audacity again as he reattempted the paddle sweep, this time successfully to score the two runs needed for his hundred. As I ran around the house celebrating, I missed Rohit’s celebration (or the lack of it) while he knew he had a task in hand. The century came off just 130 balls!

Rohit Sharma continued flicking, nudging, and gliding the ball in spaces to score his runs and rotate the strike. His rare love affair with the sweep shot seemed to have blossomed into something beautiful for the Indian Cricket Team in this match as he kept smashing Moeen Ali for boundaries with his wrist work and decisive foot movement. The shot of the innings was when a ball short on the 5th stump had an extra bit of bounce and seemed devastating from Moeen, but Rohit so elegantly adjusted to the bounce to glide it past Ben Stokes at slip to a boundary, rather agonizingly for Moeen, Stokes & Root. “Damghotu Chauka” were the precise words in the Hindi Commentary!

There was a point I am sure Moeen Ali started to wonder that did all that work at home during lockdown make Rohit Sharma a better player of the sweep shot because he seemed in so much control of its flight, direction, and result. On the 208th ball of Rohit’s innings, he flicked Root off the backfoot to complete his 4th 150 score at the Test level. “Come on!!!!!!” I screamed as the Hitman was being the master of his craft on an extremely difficult pitch to bat on. I have to also give due credits to Rahane with the application that he showed in playing a wonderful inning himself. The sweep shot was infectious as Rahane also seemed to get hooked up to it.

He was indeed Ro-Superhit Sharma on the day. I always knew the ability and the ease with which he scored these runs but it was his control in these difficult conditions that came as such a perfect gift for any Indian fan. At 159, it seemed like Rohit was out stumped while his foot seemed to be on the line. The third umpire gave the benefit of the doubt to Rohit Sharma much to my delight. I will never reveal what I felt about that decision though. I was just happy that he could carry on!

The sheer joy of watching Rohit Sharma bat didn’t last long as Jack Leach was his nemesis once again. The control of direction and flight seemed to have lost on him in this sweep shot as it looped on comfortably to the hands of the deep square leg as Rohit Sharma lost his wicket at 161 off 231 balls leaving the Indian score at 248-4. Such was his dominance that I realized only then that he had scored 65% of the team runs at that point.

I was gutted, disappointed, and heartbroken. But none of it was even minutely close to how proud I was of Rohit Sharma at that very moment. As I watched with watery eyes that Rohit Sharma left the field to a standing ovation from the Chepauk, I knew that I had possibly watched a match-defining inning that millions of Hitman fans will remember for ages.

Ravichandran Ashwin with the bat and ball further ensured that India leveled the series by winning by 317 runs in the second test at Chepauk. Ravi Ashwin deservedly got the Man of the Match for his Century and 8 wickets in the match. This match will be and should be remembered for Ashwin’s exploits. But, Rohit Sharma and his dominance in the first innings will always be fondly remembered by me.

Cheers!

 

Also Read: Ravi Ashwin & Rohit Sharma inspired India win the 2nd Test against England by 317 runs at Chepauk

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