NEW DELHI: There is something very cold-blooded about Rohit Sharma when he goes about destroying opposition attacks. The laze around the crease before taking strike and taking his own sweet time to walk down the pitch to chat with his partner in between overs are often misleading. But when he unfurls one of his front-foot hard pulls deep into the stand in front of square, you know the beast in him has awakened just like it did on Wednesday evening.
Irrespective of the denials from the camp, the match against Afghanistan was always going to be about enhancing the net run rate going forward in the World Cup. Rohit was leading from the front. In 25.4 overs of exhilarating spell of awe-inspiring striking, Rohit’s knock of 131 off 84 balls completed India’s objective from this match by setting up an eight-wicket win with 15 overs to spare in a chase of 273.
It was always going to be unlikely that Afghanistan would pose serious threats. Yet, it was about making a statement. As Rohit brought up his hundred in 63 balls, he had done just that for his team. It’s true that the Afghanistan bowlers—seamers and spinners alike—were all over the place. But Rohit’s innings of unadulterated striking showed how he was always one step ahead of the bowlers. It was as if he knew where the Afghanistan bowlers were going to land the next ball. Hence, the consummate ease and disdain in his batting. When he dispatched Naveen-ul-Haq for the third of his five sixes, he surpassed Chris Gayle’s record of hitting the most number of sixes in international cricket across formats. Yet, his road to this feat is in sharp contrast to Gayle’s absolute brutality with the bat.
Rohit’s onslaught allowed an unsure Ishan Kishan to carefully get into some kind of form with his 47 off 47. The only rash shot of the innings—a wild slog sweep cost him his wicket to Rashid Khan. The first wicket stand of 156 in 18.4 overs had all but killed the game in front of an unusually intimidating Delhi crowd that sang ‘Vande Mataram’ in unison at the first drinks break of the chase.
ICC World Cup 2023, India vs Afghanistan: Rohit slams 7th World Cup century to break Sachin’s record
Afghanistan captain Hashmatullah Shahidi on the match eve had kind of played with the ego of the Indians when he declared his team was better players of spin since his team had the better set of spinners of the two teams. Shahidi led from the front, almost consumed by the challenge he set. In an innings of 80 off 88, that saw sizeable partnership of 121 for the fourth wicket with Azmatullah Omarzai (62 off 69), he tried to ensure that his team didn’t lose any wicket to Indian spinners only to be eventually dismissed by Kuldeep Yadav. That was the only Afghan wicket to fall to a spinner even as India’s pacers, led by Jasprit Bumrah’s immaculate spell of 4/39, made sure the game never got away from India.
As much as it was about ensuring a massive win on a flat deck, the process relied heavily on not getting ahead of themselves. Virat Kohli used all his experience and didn’t get sucked into the temptation to get into a verbal duel with Naveen. With a gentle pat on Naveen’s back, calling truce for the feud during in IPL, Kohli strolled to an unbeaten 55 off 56 balls to finish off the game.
Leading up to this World Cup campaign, Rohit had frequently harped on how ODI cricket has moved on and him assigning greater emphasis on strike rate than the big centuries. He had the chance to close out the game after the frantic start, milking the bowling and registering another big century that has been synonymous to his ODI batting. He opted for relentless attack as he walked the talk. Over to the big one against Pakistan in Ahmedabad coming Saturday!