Mumbai v Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy Super League, Mumbai, 1st day November 1, 2010

Rohit throws away opening-day ton

Yesterday Rohit Sharma predicted the only way he could impress the national selectors was to score runs, runs and more runs. Today, against Saurashtra, he started off on a promising note, raced into the nineties smoothly, but just when he threatened to decimate the opposition, he rushed into a false stroke and returned exasperated, seven short of a century.

His error did not completely derail Mumbai though, as Wasim Jaffer, the marathon man of Indian domestic cricket, lodged his own century to lead the hosts to 340 for 7. Saurashtra will be happy to have regained a foothold after snatching four wickets in the final hour of the day, and if they can run through Mumbai's tail early tomorrow, they would fancy taking the first-innings lead.

Still Mumbai will not be disappointed, especially since Ajinkya Rahane, their best batsman over the last two seasons, was declared unfit in the morning having failed to recover completely from the ankle injury he picked during a recent corporate league tournament. Though the selectors rushed Sahil Kukreja, a tried and tested opener, back into the squad at the eleventh-hour, the team think tank decided to open with the left-right combination of Sushant Marathe and Omkar Gurav - both wicket-keeper batsmen originally. The pair did well to survive the initial burst of speed from debutant Jaidev Unadkat and Sandip Maniar before Gurav, who was playing his maiden Ranji match, was beaten by the away movement from Jayesh Odedra, and nicked an easy offering for Sagar Jogiyani, who had a busy day behind the stumps, claiming four catches.

Jaffer arrived, loosened those delicate wrists, clipped some sumptuous boundaries and silently stamped his authority on the proceedings. Rohit joined him after Marathe chased a wider one from Odedra, but could only bottom edge the delivery.

Sometimes, looking at the first stroke a batsman plays, instinct can tell us whether he is in good form. Unadkat pitched the ball on a length and tried to angle the delivery away, but Rohit opened his body, moved a yard in front and stroked the ball nonchalantly past the cover fielder for his first four. He understood immediately that the pitch at the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground was slow, and unless he made an error, he would get runs easily.

In the third over after lunch lofted Odedra over the bowler's head for a straight four and then pushed it neatly past point to pick another boundary. Next over, another cover drive for four and a straight six off Maniar proved his fast-growing domination over the Saurashtra bowling. Another straight six, this time against left-armer Rakesh Dhurv, took him to the brink of a half-century. A third attempted six resulted in only two runs, but got him his fifty.

Jaffer, who was six short of his own fifty at the end of the first session, reached the mark with a single. He was content to give the strike to this younger partner. Fast runs never hurt. Rohit was never in two minds and seemed intent on taking charge against every bowler. Dhurv was taken out of the attack immediately by Jaydev Shah, the Saurashtra captain, who went on the defensive quickly. Instead of placing fielders in close-in positions and persisting with the left-arm spin pair of Dhurv and Ravindra Jadeja, Shah scattered the field, providing ample gaps for Rohit and Jaffer to make merry.

Unfortunately Rohit succumbed to a rush of blood when on 93, misreading a slow turner from Jadeja. "I thought initially that it would be virtually a full toss and hence I decided to hit over the mid-on fielder," Rohit said. "But the ball dipped." Unadkat did well to hold on to a relatively difficult catch.

It would be unfair to be too critical of Rohit, especially when he was so close to getting a century. He was the first to admit that he should have converted the bright start into something big, perhaps even a double. He said there is a lot he could learn from his captain, who has proved that it is easy to combine patience with aggressive batting and keep piling up the runs. Jaffer did not mince words when asked to assess Rohit's batting today. "He is a free-flowing batsman. He gets good starts. But he needs to be disciplined to convert those starts into 100s and 150, which indirectly helps the team and him as well," Jaffer said.

It is not that Rohit does not get the message. Last year against Railways he spent nearly four-and-a half hours at the crease to get 101 at the Karnail Stadium. He played according to the situation and realised that he could do it. Today he faltered, but there will be happier days in the future for him if he can show the necessary resolve.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo