Talent finally tempered
A day after he was dropped from the Test squad, Rohit Sharma underwent a personal journey back to redemption. Last night he had a surprise visitor in his hotel. Kris Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors who replaced him with S Badrinath, dropped in for a chat. Srikkanth was himself in attendance today to watch what he termed as a "brilliant innings".
Rohit's ejection from the squad was not without reason, though. While no one doubted his talent, a question mark remained over his temperament for the longer version of the game. Sometimes the stats don't lie: Rohit lasted 294 balls in the entire 2007-08 Ranji season. His knocks had a sad familiarity to them. A gorgeous cover drive, a punch through the off side before a "lazy dismissal" left you gawking in awe at the talent and sighing at its atrophy.
So it was with a touch of apprehension that one saw his innings against the Australians unfold. A cautious start, an even more uncharacteristically patient settling-in period - his favourite cover drive took 46 balls - offered hope. Soon, he was in his element. Stuart Clark was hit for two consecutive boundaries before Rohit effortlessly lofted the third ball for six over long-on to raise his fifty. Ricky Ponting then introduced Brett Lee into the attack, and those watching went on the alert for that error in concentration.
What would it be? A weak cover drive where he doesn't lean forward fully into the shot, or the urge to punch on the up? Surprisingly, neither. He picked only four runs - two singles and a couple - off the next 22 deliveries. The non-selection seemed to have had the desired effect.
Then it happened. Lee sent one full and just outside off stump and Rohit had a waft. Luckily, for him, the inside edge took the ball well to the left of the diving wicketkeeper. Next ball, Lee slipped in a slower one and Rohit checked his drive, rolling his wrists desperately in an effort to keep it down but the ball had escaped his intent and flew to the off side. Lee lunged but couldn't hold on. Lee had another eight deliveries at Rohit but the moment had passed. Rohit had broken out of jail.
Rohit later spoke about how his inclusion in the Test squad against Sri Lanka influenced him. "I spent lots of time with Gary Kirsten who helped me tighten up my technique, which I think is very important to succeed in Test cricket," he said. He would spend the lunch and tea breaks during the Tests putting into practice what he learnt from his coach.
The repair work started after the Ranji debacle. Praveen Amre, who coached Rohit with Mumbai and here with the Board President's XI, remembers him sweating it out in the nets with a two-inch blade bat. "His bodyweight was behind and he wouldn't lean into the shots completely. And more importantly, a player of his class needs to spend 200 balls in the middle. If that happens, more often than not, he would get a big one."
Another man - rather, a boy, a teenager from Delhi - rode on the momentum laid by Rohit to script his own show. If Rohit had undergone a one-year probation period, fellow centurion Virat Kohli had a successful internship with the national side in the Sri Lanka ODI series.
However, Zaheer Khan had put him on notice in an enthralling contest in the Irani Cup. Zaheer exposed him by slanting back-of-a-length deliveries and generally raised hell and quite a few lbw shouts before the umpire finally raised his finger. Like Rohit, Kohli too started off slowly, picking singles and defending against the seamers before offspinner Jason Krejza offered a helping hand with one that was slipping down leg side. Kohli simple tickled it to the fine-leg boundary.
Two balls later, Krejza flighted across another lollypop, which was sucked by the crowd behind the long-on boundary. From there Kohli simply went on from strength to strength, hitting nine boundaries against the spinners. Ponting went back to his talisman Lee to help him out. Kohli fisted him on the up through the off side to bring up his hundred in style but Lee responded, with a little bit of help from the umpire, with a toe-crusher to terminate Kohli's stay.
At the end of the day, Australia's coach Tim Nielsen couldn't quite remember Kohli's name but without doubt, Rohit and "the other boy" would have given him a restless night.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo