A leviathan one day, a minnow the next!

Rohit Sharma’s knock against Sri Lanka in Kolkata was significant because it has accomplished two things: restoring his confidence and putting to rest India’s opener debate for some time now.-

Rohit Sharma’s world-record double hundred — his second 200 plus score in the space of a year — at the Eden Gardens has done his reputation a mountain of good. The bigger question, though, is whether this is yet another flash in the pan — the obligatory crest amid a predictable sequence of disappointments — or if Rohit has actually made substantive changes to his game, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

Perhaps Rohit Sharma’s biggest fault is that he doesn’t look like he tries. There isn’t the happy enthusiasm of Suresh Raina — giving his bowlers an encouraging slap on the back every now and then — or the angry passion of Virat Kohli. There isn’t even the eager honesty, it seems, that so endears Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ajinkya Rahane to the majority. When you’re given a long rope, sympathy will not overflow if you don’t look like you care. Manchester United fans will see some parallels with Dimitar Berbatov — talent, yes, but industry, no.

Perceptions, though, are often misleading. You cannot score 264 in a one-day-international if you’ve spent your previous afternoons drinking sangria on a deck chair. “The best aspect of that performance was the way he built his innings,” says Praveen Amre, the current Mumbai Ranji Trophy coach, and the chairman of the National junior selection committee when Rohit was picked for the U-19 World Cup. “He started slowly and then he exploded. It was a master-class in the art of batting in one-dayers. It’s also a testament to his fitness. You have to be really fit if you have to stay at the crease for 50 overs.”

It is all the more impressive for Rohit was returning from an injury lay-off, having fractured his finger in Cardiff in August. “He had not held a bat in two months,” says Amre. “He was really worried about his finger. So when he came to train at the Mumbai nets, the major concern was to get him match fit. He spent a lot of time with the physio (the BCCI’s Vaibhav Daga, whom Rohit publicly thanked). The results are there to see: he made 142 in the warm-up game and now 264.”

Rohit’s world-record double hundred — the second 200 plus score in the space of a year — at the Eden Gardens has done his reputation a mountain of good.

For too long, the 27-year-old has survived by promising a gilded future that has never truly arrived. His omission from the squad for the 2011 World Cup would be, it was thought, a turning point. It is a matter that clearly still rankles. At the press conference after his 209 in Bangalore (Bengaluru now, we’re told), Rohit was asked if missing out on the tournament served as extra motivation. “Stop going on about 2011; it’s over, I don’t want to think about it,” he snapped.

“It was very good that India won, but personally I wasn’t there in the team so that disappointment was there. But I have left it behind. Now I am thinking about what I need to do in the future.”

But there were, by his own admission, technical issues that he didn’t sort out even after the disappointment. The nadir came in Sri Lanka in July 2012, when he returned scores of 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4 from five matches. The Champions Trophy the following year saw improvement — it was evident he had done some work — and then came the Australia series at home, followed by his successful Test debut.

PTI

Things, which had been going relatively well, quickly went downhill again. The Test and one-day tour of South Africa was a struggle, exemplified by his tormented stay at the wicket in the first ODI in Johannesburg. Dale Steyn’s full, swinging deliveries saw him play out 16 straight dot balls before getting off the mark. A mediocre tour of New Zealand followed, before he injured his finger, and subsequently his shoulder.

The knock in Kolkata was significant because it has also accomplished two other things: restoring his confidence and putting to rest India’s opener debate for some time now. Ajinkya Rahane’s run at the top of the order, combined with the fact that he is by nature an opener, looked like having tipped the scales in his favour for the World Cup. But Rohit, who has clearly stated his desire to open, appears to have overtaken him in that race.

The bigger question, though, is whether this is yet another flash in the pan — the obligatory crest amid a predictable sequence of disappointments — or if Rohit has actually made substantive changes to his game. Things don’t portend well for the Tests in Australia (where he will not be opening). His seven Test matches may be too small a sample size, but his overseas record does not make for good reading in ODIs either: he averages 29.28, compared to 37.89 overall and a remarkable 65.59 (from 28 matches) in India. Can he be relied on to deliver on Australia’s traditionally hard, quick pitches come the World Cup?

“Batting is all about confidence,” says Amre. “Right now, he has no self doubts and that will be good for him down under. It’s all about the mindset. He has belief in his own ability now.”

Rohit, for his part, sounded unburdened by his past. “A couple of overseas failures will not stop my cricket,” he stated in Kolkata. “My cricket and my hard work will still remain on the track. I will keep working hard as ever. You have to accept the failure and success and you keep moving on. That’s what I’ve done.”

It is not easy, though, and a return of five hundreds from 126 one-day matches is far from flattering. “He has not done justice to his talent; we can all see that,” admits Amre. “But his approach is different now. I’m confident that things are changing.”