Had he scored 17 more runs, Rohit Sharma would have reached 281, a very, very special figure in the annals of Indian cricket, and of course the Eden Gardens. Not to forget, the country’s highest Test score till a decade ago. For the record, Sharma needed half a day and 279 fewer deliveries to score roughly the same number of runs that VVS Laxman had on that epic March afternoon in Kolkata. If Laxman’s knock rewrote India’s Test history, Sharma’s 173-ball 264 reset the benchmark of batting dominion in the 50-over game.
When the innings was over, Anil Kumble tweeted, “First target for SL 265….then 405.” In the event, the visitors, whose collective best effort in the series has been 274, fell 13-run short of Rohit’s mark.
The Eden Gardens faithful have got used to seeing the 27-year-old push the envelope with bat in hand. It is here that he smashed a 60-ball 109 for Mumbai Indians in an IPL match in 2012, and also then began his long-awaited Test career in earnest with a breathtaking 177 on debut. But on Thursday, the 27-year-old did more than underline his affliction for the historic venue. He showed that brutality can be achieved even with grace and panache. And in becoming the first batsman to ever score two double-tons in ODI cricket, Sharma also showed just why on his day he’s as indomitable as they come.
The phone camera flashes had started going off even before the Mumbai right-hander had crossed the 200-run mark. But as he drove a full delivery from Nuwan Kulasekara through the covers for four, the Eden crowd was in ruptures. Sharma let out a roar of his own, as his teammates lined up at the dressing-room balcony to applaud the man of the moment. They were to make a queue at the end of India’s innings, this time in front of the home dressing-room, to give the record-breaker a guard of honour.
Killing them gracefully
There are a lot of bones you can pick with Sharma’s batting. But when it comes off, like it did against the helpless Lankans, he is not only a treat to the eye, he’s also unrelenting and often unstoppable. And he exhibited his entire repertoire on Thursday. After being dropped at thirdman off an ugly heave outside off-stump, Sharma caressed a similar delivery between backward point and cover for a boundary off Thisara Perera, the man who had given him the reprieve. That boundary in a way set off the Sharma innings after what was a jittery start against the swing off Shaminda Eranga. Then came the flick through mid-wicket off a length delivery that pitched around off-stump and even drew gasps from Laxman in the commentary box. Then the Lankans tried to bounce him out on the placid Eden Gardens track and paid for it, as he pulled them with audacity.
He littered the off-side fence with boundaries with drives off both pace and spin. At times he leant into them, at times he stayed back and swatted them and on many occasions he used his feet and air-lifted them inside-out over the covers.
Leg-spinner Seekuge Prasanna was slog-swept on one knee over deep backward square while a leg-cutter from Angelo Mathews landed in the second tier over mid-wicket. The first 50 came in 72 balls. The next 50 in 28 and the final 164 runs off 73 balls.
By the end, Sharma was toying with the hapless tourists. As always, he received a number of full-tosses, more a result of the cluelessness of the bowling attack than anything, and he made full use of them. The six-count received a major boost towards the end of the innings, as Sharma raced past Virender Sehwag’s previous record of 219 and set out to completely eclipse it.
Sharma had come into the game after close to two months away from action owing to a finger injury. With the pair of Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan having fit in admirably in his absence, there were question marks over where the Mumbai stylist would fit in once he returned. With his blitzkrieg effort, Sharma has cemented himself as India’s ODI opener going into the World Cup on a day where he achieved an individual feat that is sure to cause goosebumps for a while to come.
Meanwhile, for those who care for the series, India now lead it by 4-0. Incidentally, 4-0 is also what India’s score vs the rest of the cricketing world is when it comes to the ODI double.