Pedal to the metal
Rohit Sharma: winner, best ODI batting performance of 2013
Best ODI batting performanceRohit Sharma
209 v Australia, Bangalore
The sheer quantity of limited-overs matches means a vast number of bilateral series pass you by without leaving an imprint on the memory. But anyone who watched the seemingly superfluous seven-ODI runfest between India and Australia last year is unlikely to forget it. A gargantuan number of runs were scored and 350-plus scores were overhauled with ease, prompting questions over whether the series was a pointer to the future of limited-overs cricket.
Topping the list of batting feats that series was Rohit Sharma's 209, only the third double-century in the history of one-dayers - all three have been scored in the last four years. While the previous two were scored by bona fide legends, this one came from a man who was just beginning to win over the legion of doubters he had amassed over a patchy six-year career. Let alone 200 in an innings, Rohit had failed to score that many in the previous year, having scratched together 168 runs in 14 one-dayers in 2012.
Coming into the series, he had already played over 100 ODIs and had only two centuries to show, both in a low-profile series in Zimbabwe in 2010. But the derisory "Nohit" nickname began to get less airtime after his solid performances in India's run to the Champions Trophy title in England. His batting in the Australia series, capped by the double-century in Bangalore, pushed it further underground.
After weeks of the bowlers getting pounded, the series was tied two-all and was to be decided on the famously flat surface in Bangalore. The Chinnaswamy Stadium is where Chris Gayle has burnished his reputation as a fearsome T20 hitter, one built on innings such as his world-record unbeaten 175 during last year's IPL, and its benign deck and short boundaries are not for faint-hearted bowlers.
After Australia chose to field, batting was proving easy. Rohit usually isn't quick out of the blocks, and he left the early pace-setting to his opening partner, Shikhar Dhawan. India were going along at six an over, but after the glut of hitting in the previous matches, it seemed sedate.
Soon after, the crowd got restless when a drizzle stopped play. And it became worse for them when Virat Kohli - the current darling of Indian fans, particularly in Bangalore, where he captains their IPL side - was run out for a duck following a mix-up with Rohit. At that stage Rohit was 41 off 59. He needed to produce something special if the crowd was to overlook his role in the dismissal of the man they had come to watch.
A burst of five sixes in four overs against the spinners, Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell, hinted at an onslaught, but the dismissal of the off-form pair of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh prompted another bout of caution. Though Rohit had reached 85 in the 29th over, the century didn't arrive till the 38th, as he focused on singles and twos, prompting mutters from the crowd about the lack of entertainment on Diwali day.
The fireworks arrived eventually. Rohit and MS Dhoni produced an hour of hitting that electrified the fans. Still, it was relatively quiet as late as the 42nd over, when Moises Henriques let an overhead catch go through his fingers to reprieve Rohit on 120. Rarely, if ever, can a drop so late in the innings have cost as many runs - Rohit added a mind-numbing 89 runs in the remaining eight and a bit overs.
The previous two ODI doubles were scored after a punishing pace had been set early in the innings. Virender Sehwag reached his hundred in the 23rd over, and Sachin Tendulkar got to his in the 28th (though he consumed 23 deliveries for the final 13 runs). Rohit's strike rate was below 100 till the 43rd over.
In a matter of minutes, the carping about the scoring rate was forgotten and the fans' attention turned to the milestones Rohit could reach. His 150 came up in the 46th over, and the possibility of a double-hundred grew brighter in the next when Rohit took Doherty for 6, 4, 0, 6, 4, 6 to arrive on 183. By then Australia seemed to be in a state of shock, unsure of where to bowl. Video-game makers Stick Cricket were moved to tweet: "You'll be hearing from our lawyers, India."
Two overs later, Rohit was one short of equalling the record for most sixes hit in an innings. The first ball of the final over was dispatched over cover for six to bring up his double-century. The second hundred had only taken 42 deliveries, and he still had five balls to make it past Sehwag's 219. He added one more, record-breaking, six before departing 11 short of that mark.
Rohit's final 18 deliveries included three fours and seven sixes, but despite the tsunami of runs, he had hardly played any slogs. There was some calculated hitting and some mediocre bowling, and an all-too-clear sighting of how much damage an in-form batsman can do in the age of T20.
Purists may complain about the marginalisation of bowlers, but a fan reflected the sentiments of an overjoyed crowd when he shouted at the end of the innings, "Paisa vasool, boss [Value for money]."