Not just big hits, Rohit serves up a tactical masterclass

Rohit Sharma with the POTM Award
Rohit Sharma with the POTM Award (PC: X)

It’s now easy to forget that the first ball that Rohit Sharma faced in the ICC T20 World Cup match against Australia on Monday was a ‘hit-me’ full-toss, and he couldn’t put it away. The second ball, Rohit slashed it to David Warner at first slip, but replays showed it was on the bounce. A left-arm quick was bowling and given the opener’s travails against that variety, the start was, expectedly, a little tense.

Rohit, though, no longer waits for his moments and his batting has become proactive. In Starc’s second over, he channelled his inner ‘hitman’.

The first two deliveries were full and wide and were sent over covers for a couple of sixes. Strac adjusted his line, but Rohit hit him over mid-on for a four. The next ball was once again outside off, and Rohit tonked it over the deep mid-wicket boundary for a six. Twenty-nine runs came off that over, including a wide, and it set the tone of the Indian innings.

Given the quality of the opponents, Rohit’s 41-ball 92 studded with seven fours and eight sixes would walk into the list of great T20I innings. But was it the best by an Indian against Australia in this format? The answer is, a no.

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Rohit Sharma vs Aus
Rohit Sharma vs Aus (PC: X)

The honour belongs to Yuvraj Singh, who scored 70 off 30 balls in the semi-final of the inaugural World T20 in 2007. Seventeen years ago, T20 cricket was in its infancy. The IPL hadn’t even started. From that perspective, Yuvraj’s innings that boasted a strike-rate north of 233, was from a different planet. That innings took India to the final. Rohit’s knock took his team to the semis.

Rohit’s innings was resplendent in its tactical smartness, the way he opened up the off side against Starc. A strong breeze was blowing across the ground and the Australian fast bowler challenged Rohit to hit into the wind on the off side. It wasn’t easy against Starc’s pace, but the India captain accepted the challenge.

“I thought right from over number one, there was a strong breeze blowing across,” Rohit said at the post-match presentation. “They changed their plan, bowling against the breeze. So I realised, I had to open up the off side as well.

Rohit Sharma versus Australia (Image: BCCI)

Rohit’s game relies on timing. But given the strong breeze at The Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in St Lucia, he had to be strong-armed as well.

“You have got to factor in the breeze and understand that the bowlers are smart as well, and open up all sides of the field,” said Rohit. “When you keep an open mind and not just think of one shot, you can access all areas of the field.”

Easier said than done. What Rohit did wasn’t possible for lesser mortals. His range allowed him to do that. His sharp mind helped him stay a step ahead of the bowlers. Starc & Co didn’t know where Rohit would play his next shot. He was comfortably hitting the ball with the wind and into it.

“You want to make big scores, but at the same time, you want to make the bowlers think where the next shot is coming,” said Rohit, after collecting the Player of the Match award. “And I think I managed to do that today.”

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