Luck, run-outs and century: Defiant Rohit Sharma swats away cobwebs of doubts
There was no exuberant celebration from India's vice-captain after he reached the milestone.
"He will always struggle to score runs in SA because of his footwork. He plants his front foot across to the off-side and in SA, the pitches always seam and bounce a bit. This is the reason that he averages around 10 there," said Kepler Wessels ahead of the fifth ODI against South Africa.
Instance 1 (Batting on 20 off 29 balls): Took his time early on and was looking set for a big knock. What happened next? Threw his wicket away as he tried to smash Morne Morkel out of the park just and ended up offering the wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock an easy catch.
Instance 2 (Batting on 15 off 16 balls): Chasing a target of 120, he got off to a decent start. It was when Kagiso Rabada bowled a short ball, one which would have been dispatched to the stands on any other day. However, it was mistimed and went straight to Morne Morkel at fine-leg.
Instance 3 (0 off 5 balls): First over of the match and Rabada was steaming in from one end. The first five balls he bowled were either left alone or somehow defended by the batsman. The sixth ball was a length delivery outside off stump and it nipped back sharply. The batsman wanted to leave it alone but was late in shouldering arms. The ball took the inside edge of the bat and went straight to Heinrich Klassen behind the stumps.
Instance 4 (Batting on 5 off 12 balls): Was low on confidence and a bit tentative as he was facing an initial burst from Rabada again. The bowler bowled a length ball and the batsman just sat back and pushed at it. There was no intent from the batsman as the bat face turned after the impact and the ball scooped back to Rabada, who completed an easy caught and bowled chance.
Four innings, 40 runs at an average of 10 is what he had managed in the ongoing ODI series. His overall record in South Africa read 126 runs in 11 innings at an average of 11.45 and a strike-rate of 53.61 compared to his career numbers of 6464 runs in 172 innings at an average of 44.27 and a strike-rate of 87.
This was the curious case of the best ODI opener in the world at the moment, Rohit Sharma. While he has been scoring runs in white ball cricket all over the world, his record in South Africa has been abysmal. After getting out to poor shots in the first four matches of the six-match ODI series, all eyes were on the right-hander ahead of the fifth ODI at Port Elizabeth.
In fact, all eyes were on the battle between Rohit and Rabada, who had dismissed him in six of the eight innings he played before the fifth ODI. The wicket had a lot of grass covering which made the ball move initially, at least for the first 8-10 overs. Having said that, surviving those overs was a big deal for the Indian opener given the way he had been batting against Rabada of late.
He started off his innings against the 23-year-old, who was breathing fire. The second delivery Sharma faced in the innings pitched outside the off-stump and skid on to his pad in front of the stumps. The close-in Proteas fielders appealed and after the umpire refused to raise his finger, they contemplated going upstairs but decided against it.
12 out of the next 13 deliveries he faced against Rabada and Morne Morkel were dot balls before he dispatched a Morkel delivery to the point boundary. Till then, his batting card read 'one run off 15 balls'.
The next over bowled by Rabada saw Rohit dance down the track against his tormentor-in-chief and sent a length delivery out of the ground. After that, there was no turning back for the Hitman as he looked his usual self and sent the ball to the boundary ropes on a regular basis.
Post the field restriction overs, he was on 18 off 27 balls when Lungi Ngidi came into the attack in the 11th over of the game. Sharma greeted him with a huge six over the deep square-leg fence. Soon after, he reached highest ODI score in South Africa, 34.
As the batsman continued to take on Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo, spin was introduced for the first time in the match.
JP Duminy received a similar treatment from the Mumbaikar as he hit two boundaries off the first two deliveries. Tabraiz Shamsi was introduced from the other end and Rohit reached his fifty off the first ball he bowled. After a nervous 1 off 15 balls, he had completed his 50 in as many balls, scoring the next 49 runs off just 35 balls.
As things eased out for India, Rohit completed a 100-run partnership for the second wicket with Kohli with a six over mid-wicket off Shamsi. India looked good for a 300+ total until the famous Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma mix-up saw the Indian skipper depart for 36. Historically, Sharma has always scored big when he runs Kohli out.
Ajinkya Rahane then joined Rohit in the middle but hardly made an impact. The latter kept the scorecard ticking and looked good for a big one. Rahane, on the other hand, who was struggling to rotate the strike, was run out for 8 off 18 balls. Unlike the previous run out, Sharma was at fault for this one as he sent Rahane back when he was already half-way down the pitch. Rohit was on 90 then, scored off 96 balls.
The nerves kicked in for the 30-year-old in the next three overs as he survived a caught behind appeal off Phehlukwayo, edged Rabada for a boundary and played an uppercut to a bouncer from the same bowler, which went straight to the fielder at third-man. He was on 96 then and fortunately for him, Shamsi dropped an easy chance and gave Rohit a much-needed reprieve.
The Indian opener capitalized on the chance and reached his century with a flick for a double off Shamsi, ironically. With those two runs off his 107th ball, Rohit silenced his critics with his maiden century on South African soil. There was no exuberant celebration from India's vice-captain after he reached the milestone as it was more a sigh of relief than a moment of celebration for him.
While he was looking to shift gears, the 30-year-old was caught behind for a well-made 115 off 126 balls with the help of 11 fours and four sixes. Rohit survived a hostile spell of fast bowling at the start of the innings, rode his luck, ran batsmen out but reached the landmark that was eluding him for a while.
After his dismissal, Indian wickets fell like nine pins and the visitors managed to put up just 274 runs on the board, 50 short of what could have been a winning total.
We don't know yet whether the bowlers will help India defend the total or the South African batsmen, with confidence from their previous outing, will chase the total down.
However, one thing is sure, Rohit Gurunath Sharma has finally arrived in South Africa and silenced his critics forever, mainly due to his technique of planting his front foot across the off-stump, something that been the reason for his success in ODIs over the last five years.