Rohit Sharma: Slow and shrewd wins the racehttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket-world-cup/rohit-sharma-slow-and-shrewd-wins-the-race-5769051/

Rohit Sharma: Slow and shrewd wins the race

ICC World Cup 2019: Rohit Sharma scored his slowest ODI ton in the game against SA but it was a masterclass in blunting an attack.

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Rohit Sharma scored his second hundred in a World Cup and 23rd overall

Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten century against South Africa was uncharacteristic as it lacked the usual flair and aesthetic appeal. What he showcased was the maturity and composure in weathering the early burst from Kagiso Rabada and in shifting gears seamlessly that helped India ace the chase with such ridiculous ease. Not surprisingly, captain Virat Kohli’s termed it as his “best ODI innings.” Here is the breakdown of Sharma’s sensational knock in Southampton.

Living on the edge: 5* (20 balls)

When Rohit Sharma walked out to bat at the Hampshire Bowl on Wednesday afternoon, the conditions were overcast and far from ideal for batting. The pitch offered a fair degree of lateral movement and disconcerting bounce. Kagiso Rabada, South Africa’s trump-card was breathing fire. The pacer produced a fiendish delivery that kicked off a length and left Sharma in an awkward tangle. The ball ballooned off his gloves, but Faf du Plessis, who was stationed at second slip, spilled it. The Indian opener had just got off the mark then. Rabada continued to torment Sharma in the subsequent two overs with his burst of seam, swing and bounce.

READ | India begin World Cup campaign with a thumping victory over South Africa

His travails were exaggerated because he was not able to pick the deviation off the pitch. Chris Morris, Rabada’s new-ball partner, also extracted prodigious movement early on. He nearly nailed Sharma in his first over with a delivery that rose sharply to hit the shoulder off his bat; but luckily for him, the ball lobbed off behind JP Duminy at point. The Indian opener, having survived two definite chances, was living precariously. At the other end, he had just seen Shikhar Dhawan, his opening partner getting dismissed by an imperious Rabada. Having taken his personal tally to just 5 runs from 20 deliveries, the target of 228 seemed some distance away.

The consolidation: 22* (27b)

Dhawan’s exit did not alter the conditions dramatically. Batting continued to be an arduous task and both Rabada and Morris had managed to exert a stranglehold on the proceedings. After seven overs, India had meandered along to 14/1. Everything changed in the subsequent Rabada over. Sharma, who had hitherto, looked like a pale shadow of his old, assertive self, unleashed his trademark pull-shot that was deposited into the square-leg boundary for a six. Rabada then elicited an edge that sped to the third-man region for a boundary. If that was not enough, Sharma unleashed a majestic cut shot off the final delivery of the over. Along with captain Virat Kohli, the duo set the foundation for the chase. But even after his pyrotechnics against Rabada, Sharma was still not at his fluent best. He is someone, who likes to keep the scoreboard ticking with a flurry of boundaries. On Wednesday, there were no freebies on offer. Runs continued to come in a trickle. After surviving Rabada’s sensational opening burst, he was not going to fritter away this start. He was unbeaten on 27 and India had gone past the 50-run mark. But Kohli’s dismissal for 18 gave Proteas a whiff of making a comeback.

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Fans applaud Rohit Sharma after his century against South Africa at the Ageas Bowl stadium in Southampton on Wednesday. (Reuters)

Cutting loose: 56* (54 b)

At 52/2, the match was in the balance, even as India had weathered the early storm quite appreciably. With Rabada cooling his heels after his 5-over burst, the Proteas did not quite have the bowlers to sustain the pressure. Not surprisingly, this was a decisive period of play in which the momentum would take a decisive shift. Sharma, was now dictating terms. The pitch had also eased out considerably, making batting a more pleasant exercise.

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Rohit Sharma scored his second hundred in a World Cup and 23rd overall

With KL Rahul for company, the two kept the scoreboard ticking with a bevy of ones and twos. Sharma took a special liking for the chinaman bowler Shamsi, tonking him into the mid-wicket fence for a six to bring his half-century. After reaching his landmark, Sharma survived another scare when Morris elicited an edge, but the ball landed short of the first slip. He made up for this lapse in concentration with a brace off boundaries against Shamsi. From 52/2 in the 17th over, India had galloped along to 139/2 in 31 overs. The 87-run third-wicket alliance between Sharma and Rahul put India in a position of ascendancy. Sharma, batting on 83 was poised to reach the three-figure landmark. Just against the run of play, Rabada returned for his second spell and removed Rahul for 26 with a devious slower delivery.

READ | Rohit Sharma climbs to third in India’s all-time ODI centurion list

After crawl, sprint: 39*(43b)

MS Dhoni did not quite set the stage on fire with scintillating stroke-play. He was only happy to bide his time, collecting singles and the odd double. Such a pragmatic approach also slowed down Sharma’s progress. At one stage, the duo looked like dragging the match till the end, but in doing so, the pair also shut out the possibility of South Africa’s revival. Slowly, but surely, he nudged past the three-figure mark in 128 deliveries. He survived another chance when he was grassed at cover by David Miller in Rabada’s penultimate over.

READ | One of the top three getting a hundred is something we bank on, says Virat Kohli

Sharma rode on his luck and marched on. When Dhoni was eventually dismissed by Morris in the 47th over for a 46-ball 34, the result of the match was a foregone conclusion, with India requiring 15 runs more from 23 deliveries.

Hardik Pandya, who walked in at No.6, completed the formalities with three emphatic boundaries. India registered a resounding seven-wicket win with 15 deliveries to spare. Sharma carried the bat through the innings to remain unbeaten on 144-ball 122.