LONDON: Rohit Sharma has scored over 8,000 runs and owns the record for the highest individual score in the ODI cricket. But the unbeaten 122 that propelled India to a winning start at the ICC World Cup 2019 was his most impressive innings of the lot, according to skipper Virat Kohli.
On a Hampshire Bowl pitch that was bouncing and seaming, Sharma’s 23rd ODI century was pivotal in anchoring India’s chase of 228 against South Africa and he steered them over the line by six wickets with 15 balls remaining.
The 32-year-old rode his luck early on as he could have been caught by Faf du Plessis at second slip for one and a couple of mistimed strokes fell perfectly into the gaps between fielders.
The opener has played far flashier innings, including the record 264 against Sri Lanka five years ago, but it was his ability to recover from the early strife and dictate a chase that sealed a win that convinced his captain to rank this knock so highly.
“I think it was by far his best ODI innings,” said Kohli. “Partly because of the kind of pressure that a first game in a World Cup brings.
“I know when you go in and a few balls bounce like that early on, it’s not easy to gather yourself and be calm. There can be a tendency to try and hit your way out of the situation but Rohit was very composed.
“He’s played lots of games, so we expect maturity and a level responsibility from him but of all the brilliant innings I’ve seen him play, this is top of the pile.
“It was the way he compiled it. Us as a team, and him personally, didn’t feel like he was ever going to throw it away.
“He ensured there was control from one end and that allowed other players to express themselves.
“It was a perfect innings for that situation, on that pitch against a bowling attack that was constantly threatening to pick up wickets. It was definitely his best knock for me.”
The total for India to chase was perhaps lower than expected after their bowlers expertly used the conditions to restrict South Africa to 227/9 from 50 overs.
Jasprit Bumrah removed openers Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock inside the first six overs before finishing with figures of 2/35 – the most economical ten-over spell of this World Cup to date – while wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal took 4/51.
And Kohli admits India were also indebted to the number one bowler in the world ODI rankings, Bumrah, for his display on his World Cup debut.
“Success in Test cricket, which Jasprit has now had, is always something that gives you immense confidence,” added the skipper.
“He believes the length ball is something that he can nick people off with on any wicket. The way he’s bowling now is so, so good to see.
“You can see batsmen who are literally clueless against him and his bowling is rushing them. That’s a testament to his hard work – practising hard in gym, the right diet and getting rest.
“He understands it’s his time and he’s making the most of it. He will be a massive factor for us here.”