In a format that encourages audacious improvised strokes, Rohit Sharma stands out for the simplicity with which he generates runs. Yet again, Eden Gardens was witness to another such innings from Sharma on Wednesday. By staying till the last ball of the match, Sharma merely exploited the mental advantage he has over any opponent at the Eden Gardens.
It started with a 200 off 257 balls in the Ranji Trophy in 2011. On his Test debut in 2013, he scored 177. The world record ODI score of 264 came here. In 2012, his first year of Mumbai Indians captaincy, he scored a superlative 109, followed by a 98 in a losing cause last year. And now, an 84 off 54 balls.
Sharma ended with a strike rate of over 155 but could have easily toppled that if he could have wanted. But the mature Sharma now knows when to conserve energy and when to fire on all cylinders. It was a typical mind game where the opponent chipped away at the other end but knew their biggest nemesis was still going strong at the other end. That allowed Mitchelll McClenaghan and Jos Buttler to cut loose without hesitation.
“It was great to have Rohit at the other end. He’s a very calm character and had everything under control. He had a lot of confidence to be there until the end and win the game, so that rubbed off on me. He was in such good form and so calm and I think for me, the excitement of the IPL gets the adrenaline going but to have him at the other end just seeing him seeing the game out just settled me down,” said Buttler.
Regardless of the format, the route to a massive score remains pretty much basic ---- it revolves around the good performances of two or three top order batsmen. “In T20s ideally, you want your top three batting the majority of the balls,” said Buttler when asked if Mumbai Indians had planned for Sharma to stay as long as possible.
“If you do that, you generally get a good score on the board. (Gautam) Gambhir faced a lot of balls for them and you get a good total with guys playing around him. It’s a pretty good template in a Twenty20 if one of your top three is there until the end, you will be pretty much there,” said Buttler.
If the maturity in handling a tough chase is a new arrow in Sharma’s quiver, he hasn’t forgotten sharpening his bread and butter shots. They are straight out of the coach’s manual, effective and safe. As opposed to most of his earlier innings here, Sharma did a lot of running on Wednesday.
Only 52 of the 84 runs came in boundaries and over-boundaries. And not one was an improvised shot. He started by offering the full face of his bat to John Hastings. When the Australian returned in the fifth over, Sharma was ready to drive him through covers before picking the customary boundary by a glance down fine leg.
There was the sweep he put into use so effectively against Brad Hogg’s spin. That late steer, in Andre Russell’s final over, through third man was all about timing. And of course there was that trademark pull that Sharma places wherever he wants to. Sharma seems to possess that extra bit of time because of his ability to pick the length of the ball earlier than most contemporary batsmen. And those supple wrists make him such a threat to players in the fine-leg to square-leg area.
He never spares any bowler who strays down his pads or tries to bounce him out. That makes Sharma such an aggressive batsman. But it spells bigger trouble if he starts biding his time and planning to stay till the last ball. When a batsman of Sharma’s caliber is allowed to start thinking like that, more often than not will the opponent team lose? It happened with KKR. It could happen to other teams as well.