“HIS ELBOW is coming nicely behind the ball now. Bus ab dega woh dekhna. The more he stays at the crease, the more dangerous he becomes.” These were Sunil Joshi’s now-prophetic words about Rohit Sharma a few days ago. The former Indian left-arm spinner turned Bangladesh spin coach was predicting the Indian captain would put his Lankan voodoo to rest against his own team. Rohit proved Joshi right by scoring 89 off 61 to set up a convincing win over Bangladesh with help from Washington Sundar with the ball as India sailed into the Nidahas Trophy final.
To his credit, it was Joshi who’d noticed a sign that nobody else had. A sign that Rohit indeed had finally found a way to set a record straight in a country with which he’s shared an interesting relationship over the years. He, of course, absolutely loves having them over in India. Everybody knows that. He scores runs for fun whenever the Lankans show up after all. There’s ample proof in his numbers against them at home. In 15 innings across all formats he’s scored 928 runs at an average of 77.33 with 4 centuries and 2 fifties, which include his two mammoth ODI double-hundreds.
Sri Lanka have got their own back though against their tormentor on their own isle. But it’s not just them. Rohit has simply not been a happy traveller to Sri Lanka. In 42 innings including Tests, ODIs and T20Is against a variety of teams, Rohit has only averaged 26.94 with 2 centuries. So in a way, the Sri Lankans haven’t minded having Rohit over either and if anything, most teams have preferred him in the opposition on the Emerald Isle. It was only last year in the ODI series that the opener, who played an under-19 World Cup here over a decade ago, finally got over of his Lankan voodoo. But he’d gone back to struggling in this tri-series with no real sign of setting the record straight once and for all. Before Joshi noticed something about his elbow and unfortunately for
Bangladesh’s sake was right on the money. Whether it’s one-day cricket or T20s, Rohit’s strategy at the top of the order has always been to get his eye in first before exploding later. But he’s somehow just not got that early phase away. Here again he started slow taking 15 balls for his first 10 runs. Then came a slog sweep of Mehdy Hasan that sailed over deep mid-wicket and suddenly it looked like he’d knocked off that customary inertia. Shikhar Dhawan started well too but for a change didn’t continue on being yorked by Rubel Hossain.
In walked Suresh Raina. Rohit continued in second gear and brought up his 50 in 42 balls. Was he, however, playing himself into form at the expense of his team looking for a big score against a Bangladeshi line-up that had chased down 215 four nights earlier? The sceptics couldn’t have been blamed for thinking so. Thankfully for Rohit, Raina didn’t waste any time getting his eye in. India were going at 7-an-over after 10 overs. He first went after Hasan Mirza with a six and a four off consecutive deliveries before hitting two fours of Hossain. By now, he’d allowed Rohit to come into his own. And the stage was set for the Indian captain to make Bangladesh pay. The 17th over from Mustafizur Rahman was taken for 14 runs before Ali Hider was struck for two sixes by Rohit and one by Raina in the 18th. Rohit, like he does so often in limited overs cricket, once again made up for a slow start and scored 39 off the last 19 balls. Raina went for 47 off 30.
New boy and the new ball
Sundar has happier memories of Sri Lanka from one visit than Rohit has from 9 previous trips here. He’d come here for an under-19 one-day tournament back in 2015 and scored 3 half-centuries in 4 innings. The lanky Tamil Nadu all-rounder had taken a few wickets as well but it was his batting that shone brighter. He’s made it to the Indian team more on the back of his excellent skills with the new-ball though. It’s not to say that his batting hasn’t played a role in convincing the selectors. It’s more a case of him not having had an opportunity to showcase that other string in his bow. He’s done enough with the ball, however, to prove his worth. He’d been among the wickets in the first three games. Sundar chose the perfect game, with a place in the final at stake, to produce out his best performance. By the end of his third over, all bowled in the powerplay, he’d knocked back the top three in the Bangladesh line-up. Liton Das was first, then came Soumya Sarkar before he got rid of the dangerous Tamim Iqbal who’d just about got going. Yuzvendra Chahal then tightened the screws and the spinners went for only 43 runs in their 8 overs with Chahal accounting for captain Mahmudullah.
It left Mushfiqur Rahim, who else, to wage another one of his sprightly lone-ranger battles. And the diminutive wicket-keeper kept India under pressure till the very end. His unbeaten 55-ball 72, to follow up on his match-winning blaze against Sri Lanka, might not have been good enough on this occasion.