264 v Sri Lanka, Kolkata
I was part of the jury that decided these awards. I didn't vote for this innings. Bear with my reasoning, faulty as it was - as proved by the rest of the jury. Rohit Sharma got his hundred in the 32nd over. I said to everyone around that a double-century was coming. Sri Lanka were playing a series their players weren't very interested in. They had come in as last-minute replacements for the striking West Indians. They looked flat in the field. The pitch was flat too. Eden Gardens doesn't have the biggest boundaries in the world. The outfield was lightning quick. It was November, the most pleasant time in which to play cricket in usually humid Kolkata. Rohit is one of the finest in the world when he starts hitting sixes. It was all too predictable.
As wiser heads have shown, the predictability was the biggest quality of this innings. You can't argue against the sheer volume of runs scored. Bats have been bigger for a while, pitches flat, outfields quick and reverse swing negated by two new balls on most occasions. Yet, ever since Glenn Turner scored 171 not out against East Africa in 1975, thus overhauling the previous record for the highest ODI score by 55 runs, no one had broken the previous record by more than 19 runs. Four, 14, five, six, 19 - those had been the increments players had managed over close to 40 years.
There is something called saturation. After a while, world records become a matter of millimetres, especially in a timed format. Yet out comes Rohit, and smashes Virender Sehwag's record by 45 runs. It is a ridiculous gift to make this seem predictable. Rohit has it.
Also, bear in mind the circumstances. Rohit had not played international cricket since India's first ODI in England. It had begun with a finger injury while fielding, in August. That was supposed to cost him four weeks. In between, he strained his shoulder too. The finger took longer to heal. He missed the Duleep Trophy, and the home ODIs against West Indies. While he was away, the more industrious Ajinkya Rahane did a pretty good job of opening the innings. Questions began to be asked if Rohit was the right choice as an opener going forward, especially in Australia. Rohit, though, had grown to love the opening slot. It gave him time to build an innings and then go boom later. But there was doubt now and he had to squash it.
So on he came, in place of Shikhar Dhawan - then resting but otherwise a certain opener - and watched Mumbai team-mate Rahane smash three boundaries in the first over. Rohit played out a maiden. He slashed to third man, and was dropped by Thisara Perera. Had Perera taken it, Rohit would have been out for 4 off 18.
You wouldn't imagine a double-century being made by a batsman who has been 4 off 18. Sachin Tendulkar had scored 22 off the first 18 balls he faced when he scored the first double-century in ODIs. Virender Sehwag, too, was 22 off 18 in his 219. Rohit does things differently. He was 11 off 18 when he made his first double-century, which incidentally won the ESPNcricinfo award for the best ODI innings of 2013. This, though, is beyond ridiculous. Four off 18, which turns into 12 off 25 at the end of the first Powerplay. Where do you get off calling a double-century predictable from that stage?
Sample two sets of feedback to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary at this stage.
Sai Ashish: "Rohit shouldn't open though he's been fairly successful so far. Opening doesn't come naturally to him and he's not a good player of swing as well.. I strongly believe Rahane should open, Rohit should bat at 4/5 in the World Cup which suits his style of play better!"
LM: "Lot of criticism for Rohit opening.. Give him a chance folks even with slow starts he is capable of ending with run a ball 100. This might happen today too"
A run-a-ball 100. What a laugh. Something more fun was in store. Rohit flicked one nonchalantly in the 11th over. It looked like a single when it left the bat. Fine leg didn't have much to move, but he was beaten. Outfield? Check. In the 14th over, just after India had lost a second wicket, Rohit cut a slightly wide ball away for four. Timing? Check. In the next over he beat deep midwicket for four with a delicate touch. Placement? Check. Without doing anything crazy Rohit added 38 in 37 balls after the tenth over, to reach his fifty.
Then he started playing with the bowlers. Ajantha Mendis bowled with mid-off up, and he cleared it. He chipped Seekuge Prasanna over cover. Now Mendis had mid-off back, but the midwicket came in. So Rohit cleared that man. The pressure was showing on Sri Lanka. Bad deliveries started coming up and he kept punishing them. And then in the 30th over, India called for the Powerplay. Rohit was 78 off 90 then. Carnage was unleashed at that point. Nuwan Kulasekara bowled. He went. Mendis bowled. He went. Prasanna bowled. He went. Shaminda Eranga bowled. He went. With 45 runs off 21 Powerplay balls for Rohit, the double was now on. Kohli ran himself out. Like during Rohit's last double, when their partnership had ended in a Kohli run-out.
Nothing mattered to Rohit now. India had wickets in hand. He was in. At his favourite Eden Gardens, where almost a year before, he had scored a century on Test debut. From the time India called for the Powerplay, Rohit scored 186 runs off 83 balls. It would have been staggering had it been a T20 innings. This was after he batted 29 overs. That there were 17 dot balls during this period was testament to Rohit's boundary-hitting ability: he hit at a better rate than one every three balls.
There was a bit of everything now. Sixes came mostly over cover and down the ground, and also when Sri Lanka pitched short. Against spinners he showed great intuition with field placement. Rohit reached his 200 in the 46th over, and we were entering a world of possibilities. He was dropped next ball at the fence. Four more. When he was dropped in the next over, he had 222. That's 20 runs every over. Could he do the unthinkable here? A triple? Now that wouldn't be predictable, would it?
Nineteen more in the next over. All effortlessly scored. Now 246 with two overs to go. The triple didn't happen, but look at his progression: 50 off 72, 100 off 100, 150 off 125, 200 off 151 and 250 off 166. And most of that predictable. Therefore not a fluke. Hence the winner of the award.