Rohit Sharma conquers left-arm demons, unleashes ruthless six-hitting storm to ease some pain of November 19 | Crickit
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Rohit Sharma conquers left-arm demons, unleashes ruthless six-hitting storm to ease some pain of November 19

Jun 25, 2024 08:35 AM IST

The Rohit Sharma vs Mitchell Starc subtext was going to be one of the more influential match-ups of Monday’s Super Eight clash at the Daren Sammy Stadium

Thrice in four completed innings previously in the tournament, Rohit Sharma had been dismissed by left-arm seamers – Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi, Saurabh Netravalkar of US and Afghan Fazalhaq Farooqi. Up against him now was one of the foremost left-arm pacers in the world, a wonderful exponent of swing blessed with the ability to bring the ball into the right-hander. It’s impossible that these thoughts didn’t flit momentarily through the Indian captain’s mind. How would Rohit stand up to Mitchell Starc?

India's captain Rohit Sharma hits a 6 during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Super Eight cricket match between Australia and India at Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia on June 24(AFP)
India's captain Rohit Sharma hits a 6 during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Super Eight cricket match between Australia and India at Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia on June 24(AFP)

The Rohit vs Starc subtext was going to be one of the more influential match-ups of Monday’s Super Eight clash at the Daren Sammy National Cricket Island in Gros Islet, bathed in an ocean of Blue as it egged its heroes on to exact a modicum of revenge for the heart-breaking loss in the final of the 50-over World Cup on November 19. Revenge wouldn’t have been the foremost theme gripping Rohit; to him, it was imperative to provide his team a good start, ensure that the unbeaten run was kept going, that a top of the table place was secured so that in the event of a washout in the semifinal in Providence, India would win through to the final because they had finished on top of their group in the Super Eights.

Rohit wasn’t going to die wondering. He wasn’t going to give Starc any more than the ball deserved; indeed, if he respected anything, it would be the ball, not the bowler.

Against Bangladesh two days back in North Sound, Rohit had bunted the first ball of the match, from off-spinner Mahedi Hasan, over mid-off for two. This time, he took just a couple of deliveries longer before wrist-whipping Starc, in the air, wide of mid-on for a screaming boundary. No one knew at the time that it was the start of a torrent, that Storm Rohit was going to unleash itself on the unsuspecting Aussies, leaving behind such a trail of destruction that not even Travis’ Headstart could salvage the pieces.

Having milked six off the first over, Rohit watched his out-of-sorts opening colleague Virat Kohli perish to Josh Hazlewood in the second over of the match, for his second duck in four innings. Time for caution, certainly? A little bit of circumspection, maybe?

Definitely not.

The first ball of Starc’s next over, the third of the match, was driven over cover for six. The second was an action replay of the first. To the third, now using smarts as much as skills, Rohit walked across his stumps – not shuffled, but walked – and clattered the bowler over mid-on for four. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t off the meat of the bat, so Rohit embarked on course correction. Much the same routine as the previous ball, and the sweetest of connections sent the ball soaring over wide long-on. 96 metres, no less. Starc was smarting. Starc was schooled. Starc was clueless.

After a brief respite, Rohit top-edged the last ball of the over, a full toss, over third-man for his fourth six in six legal deliveries. Twenty-nine came off the Starc over, including a wide; Kohli’s dismissal was a footnote. How often can one say that?

Rohit has been a vocal advocate of forgetting about individual milestones and batting with team goals in mind. He walked the talk at the home World Cup last year, and he again did so on Monday, strokes cascading off his willow as if pre-programmed, if not pre-ordained. He had a slice of luck or two – fortune, favour, bold, anyone? – but more often than not, he made his own luck. Marcus Stoinis, enjoying a purple patch with the ball, was caressed over extra-cover, just caressed, no more, for the most mellifluous of his eight sixes. The bowler followed the arc of the ball, admiration and envy unwittingly showing on his face, aware that he was in the presence of something ethereal. When Adam Zampa, the leggie who has been a key figure in Australia’s white-ball ascendancy in the last few years, was called on by skipper Mitchell Marsh, Rohit went down on his knee and slog-swept him for another six, the stroke to the diametrically opposite field position as to Stoinis also diametrically opposite in its conception. This time, it was power, not timing, that was the cornerstone.

Rohit breezed to a 19-ball half-century, the fastest of this edition and the fastest ever against Australia in T20Is. He got into the 90s, within a couple of blows of an unprecedented sixth T20I hundred, when Starc had his revenge, off bat and pad and on to his stumps. No one should have talked about the dismissal, no one did. Thursday was all about the preceding mayhem.

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