ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2015 T20 batting winner: revenge of the talented

When Rohit Sharma took the bowlers and the critics on

George Binoy
Rohit Sharma pressed forward during his second fifty and got to his hundred off 62 balls  •  AFP

Rohit Sharma pressed forward during his second fifty and got to his hundred off 62 balls  •  AFP

In September 2015, after a Test tour of Sri Lanka in which he scored half-centuries in each of India's victories, Rohit Sharma lashed out against the "talented" label he is frequently tagged with. His frustration stemmed from the perception that he was not making use of his abundant gifts and that batting came easily to him without hard work.
Two weeks later Rohit gave evidence of what he can do when natural ability is married to application.
The stage was the opening fixture of South Africa's 72-day long tour of India, a contest branded the Gandhi-Mandela Series. The day, October 2, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. The venue, Dharamsala, where the cricket ground cradled by the Himalayas rivals Cape Town and Queenstown for beauty. The occasion, the first ever T20 international South Africa were playing in India. It was also India's first home international in almost 11 months.
Faf du Plessis won the toss and asked India to bat first, to the delight of the home crowd.
Rohit played four dot balls against Kyle Abbott at the start of the game. He was beaten once, and appealed against for lbw. He then carved a fuller one hard over point and to the boundary. Against Kagiso Rabada, Rohit let go two of the first three balls, and then drove a length delivery through the line to the cover boundary.
Marchant de Lange bowled the first short ball at Rohit - the fourth delivery of the third over. South Africa were always going to attempt that length of attack sooner rather than later. On a pitch with even bounce at moderate pace, Rohit met the delivery on the front foot, swivelled his weight backwards, and pulled towards the backward square-leg boundary. The start was typical Rohit - nine dots and four boundaries in 15 balls.
The next ball, he urged Shikhar Dhawan through for a second run that was extremely risky - though there was a misfield - and de Lange and AB de Villiers combined to dismiss India's first wicket. A period of dot balls and singles followed between Rohit and Virat Kohli, punctuated by the occasional boundary. De Lange bounced Rohit again and was pulled for four. Chris Morris tried to bounce Rohit and was pulled for six. Both off the front foot.
While Kohli took on the responsibility of finding the boundary for the next couple of overs, Rohit moved steadily towards a half-century. He got there by ramping a short ball from Abbott over an empty slip cordon for four, and then celebrated by scooping high over the man at short fine leg two balls later. After ten overs, India were 86 for 1, and Rohit was on 56 off 42 balls. He had taken his time to get set, and was at his most dangerous on the home stretch.
The charge began in tandem in the 12th over, with Rohit slogging Imran Tahir against the spin but far over deep midwicket, and Kohli adding two more sixes. Against Rabada, Rohit lofted a length ball clean through the line, hitting it high in the thin mountain air and into the first tier beyond long-off. Rabada countered with a short ball. It disappeared again, over deep midwicket via a pivot, swivel and pull. Rohit feasted on full tosses on the pads and short deliveries to race towards his hundred, and got there by lofting his 62nd delivery far over long-off with a perfectly straight bat.
He finished on 106 off 66, having scored 45 runs off his last 20 deliveries. He had the opportunity to push for one of the highest scores in the format when he was dismissed with 24 balls to go - caught on the pull at long leg by Morris off Abbott. India were on 162 for 3 at the time, and could only manage another 37. While India had largely relied on one man for their 199, South Africa found contributions from several, and chased down the target with four balls to spare. Rohit's performance was the third T20 international hundred made in a defeat.
"This 'talent' talk has messed things up for me. I started my career as a bowler. I was never a batsman," he said to the BCCI in that interview. "All this natural talent, god's gift that you guys in the media talk and write about is unfair and wrong. I have worked on my batting to get here. I used to bat at No. 8. From there, I made my way up. Ask my coach, Mr Dinesh Lad, and he will tell you that I was an offspinner."
Rohit may not be the finished article as a Test batsman, but in the limited-overs format his talent is evident in his range of strokeplay and his application clear in his ability to bat deep into an innings, be it a T20 international or an ODI.