Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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It was for long the insurmountable peak for ODI batting, but one man might now have a template to score ODI double-centuries again and again. In Bengaluru, against Australia in 2013, Rohit Sharma reached 20 off 35th ball, 50 off the 71st, and the hundred in the 38th over of the innings. In Kolkata, against Sri Lanka in 2014, he was nearly caught for 4 off the 17th ball he faced, reached his 20th run off the 35th ball, but accelerated slightly earlier to bring up his century in the 32nd over of the innings. On a cold mid-week afternoon in Mohali this season, he was even slower to start, reaching 20 off 37 balls, 50 off 65 balls, and bringing up the hundred only in the 40th over.
All three were ODI doubles. One time can be a charm, but to accelerate so crazily three times after having set up the innings and to make it look predictable is a perfect combination of skill, fitness and the right mental approach to ODI batting. You can be all amazed at how he manages to do it, but Rohit's reaction to it is typically relaxed. "That's my template, no?" he tends to ask. He remembers the innings clearly: reaching "50 off 70 balls", bringing up the hundred "near the 40th over", and then knowing that the bowlers can't get him out unless he makes a mistake.
"That is my style of play," Rohit said. "You are set and seeing the ball nice and hard and you have understood what the bowlers are trying to do by then, and it's all about trying to play with the field once you get past 100. It's all about you not making a mistake and getting out. I am not saying it's impossible or difficult, but it's very unlikely the bowlers are going to get you out once you have scored a hundred.
"So it was all about me not making a mistake and batting as long as possible. That's what I did. There is no secret or formula to it. You just have to bat and not make any mistake. The ground is good, the pitch is nice and hard, so you can trust the bounce and play the shots."
Rohit was asked to expand on the mindset. "I started off very slow because I like analysing," Rohit said. "I like to analyse the situation, conditions more than that because the conditions initially were not so easy and we wanted to play out those initial overs, and then see what we can do. In all the three double hundreds, it is a very similar pattern that you will see... started off slow, then picked up the pace and then in the end I accelerated.
"That is only because unless you make a mistake, you are not going to get out because you are set and you are seeing the ball well. Bowlers are trying to get away with their plans because things are not going their way. So all those things, I count, I analyse and I talk to myself about it when I am batting. I feel after you get a hundred, batting will only get easier. You have been there, took out the toughest part of the game which is the initial phase with the two new balls. You have batted that, your team is in a good position and you also have wickets in hand, so all those put together, gives you freedom to play those shots. I exactly did that.
"I am not someone like AB de Villiers, or Chris Gayle, or MS Dhoni for sure. I don't have that much power. I have to use my brain to manipulate the field and I have to stick to my strength, which is to hitting through the line and playing with the field. Once you cross the three-figure mark, batting only gets easier. Unless you make a mistake, you will not get out. It can happen if you get a good ball, but eight out of 10 times you will not."
This might have sounded arrogant had it come from someone other than the affable Rohit. He does make it sound like the six-hitting in the last 10 overs is routine, easy even. "Nothing is easy in cricket," Rohit said. "May be when you watch it on TV it looks easier, but it is not. Trust me, when you are out in the middle, you have to use your brain and you have to time the ball. Otherwise, it is not easy. I was trying to play with the field, playing a scoop shot, trying to hit over point. Those are my strengths. It is not always that you can clear the rope easily. So that is the advantage of having five fielders inside. You can play with the field and shot selection becomes very important."
How about selecting which of the doubles is closest to him then? They all are, and Rohit went on to talk of the circumstances that made it impossible to choose between them. "I cannot rate this because the others were as important as this one," Rohit said. "Because the first one against Australia was a series-decider. The second one against Sri Lanka I was making a comeback after three months. I was injured before that and didn't play any cricket. It was a world record so obviously that has to be right up there. This one also having had a loss in the first game, we wanted to come back as batting group. This is my first captaincy stint, and you know I as a batsman first and then as a captain I wanted to do well."
This one did have an extra icing on the top, coming as it did on his wedding anniversary and in the presence of his wife, whom he saluted with a little peck on his ring finger after reaching the double hundred. "You must have seen on visuals, she was more happy than me," Rohit said. "She got a little emotional because it was the first double-hundred that she witnessed. It is not that I score double-hundreds every day. The way she came and told me was quite funny. But it was good to have her there and let her witness what I did today. I am very happy about that part. But more than that, winning the game... my first [successful] game as a captain... very happy with that."