India v Australia, 7th ODI, Bangalore November 2, 2013

Rohit takes strides towards consistency

Since moving to the top of the order, Rohit Sharma has become a more reliable cog in India's one-day set up, and that was on show in this series

Rohit is relishing the responsibility of opening the innings

Clint McKay was at the top of his run-up, ready to bowl, but he had to wait. And wait. Rohit Sharma had already punched the air in jubilation, hugged his captain MS Dhoni, soaked up the applause of the euphoric crowd and was walking towards the batting crease. While McKay was eager to bring another punishment-filled innings for the bowlers closer to an end, a grinning Rohit relished his double-century, setting off on part two of his celebration - a series of fist pumps and a wave of the bat to the dressing room and the fans.

After his part in running out the current golden boy of Indian cricket and favourite of the Bangalore crowd, Virat Kohli, for a duck, Rohit needed to produce something special, and he did.

What made it even more of a delight for Rohit was that the chance of the double-century sneaked up unexpectedly late in the innings. When Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag broke through the barrier, they set off at a breakneck pace right from the start, but here Rohit batted almost leisurely at the beginning, allowing Shikhar Dhawan to take charge.

Even as late as the 42nd over, when he had already hit eight sixes, he was scoring at less than a run a ball. In a matter of minutes though, the possibilities multiplied. A couple of boundaries off McKay in the 46th over took him to 150, and had people thinking about him going past 183 - the highest score of three modern Indian ODI masters, Sourav Ganguly, Dhoni and Kohli.

An onslaught on Xavier Doherty - 6 4 0 6 4 6 - took him there by the end of the 47th. The next target was the double-ton, and how badly he wanted it was evident in the penultimate over, when he emphatically called Dhoni back for a second so he could retain strike after stroking the ball towards sweeper cover.

Off the first ball of the final over, he hit a record-tying 15th six over cover to go past the magic mark, and followed it up with another six, this time over midwicket. Suddenly, Sehwag's 219 was in his sights. He couldn't get there, but he had already doubled his score in the final 12 overs, and taken India to a towering total.

It was frenetic scoring, but Rohit made it look casual. There was no slogging, and almost everything went his way. Towards the end of the innings, there were showers a couple of kilometres away from the Chinnaswamy stadium, but there was no raining on Rohit's parade.

"Paisa vasool (value for money) boss," a fan shouted during the innings break, thoroughly satisfied though India's total of 383 had only added to what promises to be a long-running debate about the balance between bat and ball.

The 209 also extends Rohit's burst of heavy scoring - a record aggregate for a bilateral series - that repaid the immense faith placed in him by the management and which he needed to win over Indian fans, for plenty of whom he has been an object of derision over the past few years.

Rohit has shown flashes of his ability to turn matches previously, with Man-of-the-Series performances at home and away against West Indies in 2011. Those runs were scored in tougher conditions, especially in the Caribbean, and often with the team stuttering after a top-order failure.

Those signs of brilliance though came in low-profile series and were sandwiched by fallow spells, which meant the question marks over his place in the side never really went away. The worst of those lowlights was in 2012, during one of the many forgotten series in Sri Lanka where five single-digit scores finally ejected him from the XI.

The renaissance came about in 2013, with another go at the top of order against England. He began with a brisk 83 in Mohali, and he has been scoring runs ever since - he now averages 59.50 in 22 games since being promoted to open. The solid starts that were crucial to India's run to the Champions Trophy title were followed by substantial scores in the Caribbean tri-series, but the critics continued to ask about the lack of hundreds. He had only two centuries in nearly 100 ODIs till the start of this series, and it is another blot on his CV that he has erased with the unbeaten 141 in the gobsmacking chase in Jaipur and today's memorable performance.

Now, the big remaining blemish is his lack of Tests. While many argue about the endless chances he was given to come good in ODIs, few will disagree his superb first-class record merits an opportunity in Tests.

Except for rare cases like Cheteshwar Pujara, who is earmarked as something of a Test specialist, the route to make it to the Indian Test side has been through consistent success in the limited-overs matches. Rohit had checked that box, pushing him nearer and nearer to that elusive Test cap.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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