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Rohit Sharma walks the tightrope to his hundred

Maiden overseas Test century contains all the familiar traits, as opener ends long wait

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Just wait. It'll come as sure as night after day.
Most likely it'll come from one of the shots that defines Rohit Sharma in white-ball cricket. England will bounce him, put two men out and he'll pull it to one of them. Like he did at Trent Bridge after he'd batted nearly 40 overs. Like at Headingley where, having batted nearly three hours for 19, he pulled one very awkwardly to short mid-on. Like he did in Sydney earlier this year when, on 52, he pulled Pat Cummins straight to backward square leg. "Rohit will be filthy with himself," ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary noted.
England didn't have anyone of real pace on this surface but in the 50th over of the innings, they sent two men back and Chris Woakes bowled one short. Earlier this series, in a Sky interview with Dinesh Karthik, Rohit had pushed back against the impression that he somehow had more time than other batters when at the crease. Probably it's true but in playing this Woakes short ball, ABBA had time enough to break up and then reform. Wrists rolled over it, a single, to move from 55 to 56.
Never mind, it's coming. Any moment now.
Look, Moeen Ali's on. Rohit's going to try and assert the ordained hierarchy of cricket here: Indian batter >> offspin. He'll sweep him, like he once did to Nathan Lyon, over six years ago at Sydney. He was on 53, and he under-edged it on to his stumps. Moeen's found some turn and unsettled Rohit pre-lunch so it's bound to happen. The first ball Moeen bowls after lunch, Rohit, on 56, sweeps. It rolls along the ground to square leg. No run.
It's written. Give it some time.
Now, because England might start going straighter at him on this surface, it'll bring the stumps into play. Ages ago, when Rohit was a different Rohit, he was pinged by one from Angelo Matthews (eyebrow-raising is allowed here) that seamed back in when he was on 79, and the day was nearly done.
Already a couple of times today, he's hit uppishly in the general direction of mid-on. On 36 he got away with it when Woakes moved in the wrong direction first, and then was this close to getting to it. Ollie Robinson starts probing away with Rohit nearing 60. He gets beaten by one that nips back in sharply - but it's high - and then pushes one, in the air, but well short of mid-on.
England bring in a short mid-on in Robinson's next over, the last before afternoon drinks. Rohit gets hit on the thigh, he inside-edges a block for four but, of course, short mid-on is now redundant. Memo lads, the horse, she has bolted.
No really, it's here. He's already gotten a little lucky post-afternoon drinks when, in one Moeen over, he's beaten by the drift and nearly slices a drive to James Anderson but it goes instead for a boundary. Because you may remember him lobbing one back to Lyon at Adelaide when he was 43. Anyway, he's on 80 in the following Moeen over, there's a man at deep midwicket and he sweeps Moeen. Not in control, top-edged and it hangs in the air. And drops safely on the way to the boundary.
Maybe now it isn't coming?
Wait. A good ball can still do it. That'll get him. This is England, this is the Dukes ball, the two are enough for a party. Except that there's a Debbie Downer at this party and it's the England slip carousel (no, it's not a cordon right now). The good balls turned up when Rohit was on 6 and then 31, so those chances are long gone.
It'll come because it must. Because it has all those times when an overseas Test hundred has looked a formality for Rohit Sharma only for it to not be. All those occasions which, increasingly and especially this year, have been anti-climactic in the way hitting middle age is, when one morning you realise this is it and there's not really a whole lot else.
And then he zips through the 90s like the 90s are an aberration in the counting system and we've been counting wrong all these centuries, that after 89 comes 100, and he's dancing down at Moeen and launching one over long-on and the Met Weather Office didn't record any sunshine today at The Oval but here, unmistakably is a glimpse of it. (It had, incidentally, peeped out once five minutes before lunch too, when he pulled Craig Overton for four.)
It's not coming.
No, that six means that the brain-fade, the carelessness, a fatal breakdown in the process - whatever you want to call it - whatever it has been that has seen Rohit hit eight overseas fifties and zero hundreds, it's not coming today.
We're a species of box-tickers, so now that the hundred is here, let's be real about this. If Rohit had gotten out for 99 today it wouldn't have meant he's any less of the batter he's been through this series. If anything, his body of work in this series, this year, have shown that the landmark of a hundred can sometimes feel an arbitrary one. That we sometimes invest too much into the reaching of landmarks, mistakenly ascribing traits such as ruthlessness to it. Of course, it does mean something, not least to Rohit, because we are also a species that seek unending validation - and none more than athletes.
But let's also allow ourselves the thought, however briefly, that as he understood he had struck that six, and celebrated so understatedly that Cheteshwar Pujara was the more excitable fellow, some small part of Rohit also thought: "I have seven Test hundreds already and I am a little bit good whether or not that went over the ropes."
After all, his various not-hundreds in this series - the first-innings 36 at Trent Bridge, the 83 at Lord's, the 59 at Leeds - have not been any less important or made him any less than the most secure batter here, other than perhaps Joe Root.
It hasn't needed this hundred to recognise and appreciate the one shot that has defined him this summer - other than the leave - and not least in this innings. That forward defensive, leant into gently not strode into, and possessed of a balance, and the stillness of body and mind of a tightrope walker.
More than any attacking stroke, time and again this has been the act that has signalled a comprehensive end to the individual battle each delivery in cricket is. Time and again today it was his response to the reality he found himself in, a little like Leonardo DiCaprio's recurrent spinning top in Inception, reminding him of which world he was in. To the balls before he was beaten, to the balls after he was beaten, to balls before the boundaries and to the balls after them, to the balls that meant nothing and to the balls that meant everything, and most tellingly to the ball right after that six off Moeen.
It did finally come though.
It did yes, except by then the world was no longer what it was when we started this.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo