A few days back when asked at a press conference whether he was worried about Rohit Sharma's form, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was dismissive of the concern. "He may not have got big scores, but his form is very good," he said.
Virat Kohli, India's Test captain, has in the recent past voiced similar confidence in Sharma. "I don't know why people keep asking about Rohit's ability. We all know his class, so where's the worry?"
And then, just when critics believe he has run out of opportunities and will hang himself by the long rope given to him, Sharma comes up with a stellar knock,
In the replies of Dhoni and Kohli is also the paradox of Sharma's batting which so upsets his detractors: when he is in good form and if he is so classy, why then doesn't he score runs more consistently?
And then, just when critics believe he has run out of opportunities and will hang himself by the long rope given to him, Sharma comes up with a stellar knock, like the 137 against Bangladesh on Thursday, to stymie the queries about his calibre.
Sharma's century against Bangladesh was the best crafted of those made by the Indian batsmen in the World Cup. True, Dhawan (versus South Africa) and Kohli (versus Pakistan) have made theirs against stronger opponents, but Sharma's came in the knock-out stage, and at a time when the team was in strife.
It was an innings that was well thought out. After the good start with Dhawan, the loss of three quick wickets had put India under duress. The urge to hit his way out of trouble would have been strong for Sharma who has a penchant for counter-attack.
But in the circumstances, it was fraught with great risk. If India did not make at least 250, the game could have been lost. What Sharma did, contrary to what everybody anticipated, was grit his teeth and grind out runs, play second fiddle to the more assured (at that stage) Suresh Raina, before ending with the flourish and flamboyance that helped India past the 300 mark.
In my opinion, this was the best of his seven ODI centuries. Yes, he's got two double centuries, one of them against Australia which has a formidable bowling attack. But these came in home conditions. The pressures playing in a knock-out match in the World Cup are entirely different, test your mettle even greater.
No other batsman in the world has as much time to play his strokes, few have the range, the gift of timing and the power.
The key word here is 'mettle'. Sharma's batting has always invited skepticism as much because of his failure to make big scores often enough as for the manner of his dismissals.
The issue was never about talent, because that is amply evident even if he has a brief stay in the middle. No other batsman in the world has as much time to play his strokes, few have the range, the gift of timing and the power.
All these things considered, he should be a champion run scorer, argue the doubters, so he must have a chink in his temperament. And then again, you can't scoff at two ODI double centuries, plus centuries in his first two Tests - though it must be mentioned that he lost his place in the Test after a string of low scores.
It is highly unlikely a batsman can do this if he doesn't have the concentration, stamina and run hunger. Indeed, if Sharma's sense of responsibility towards his cricket was suspect, it is also unlikely that he would be given the captaincy of Mumbai in domestic cricket and Mumbai Indians in the IPL so easily.
There is no easy explanation to understanding his staccato, enigmatic scoring pattern save to say that he is the kind of player who always desires to give fuller expression to his talent. This is considered either too risk, or fragility in temperament which I think is an incorrect diagnosis. It is only because their talent is so seductive that the expectations from them are greater.
Two players from the past, David Gower and Mark Waugh - both stylists like him - were also thought to be under performers. But if you look at their career records and achievement, they stand scrutiny with the best. It is only because their talent is so seductive that the expectations from them are greater.
Is this century against Bangladesh the turning point in Sharma's career, does it mean greater consistency from a man whose innate talent everybody acknowledges, but who frequently leaves fans infuriated with his 'soft' dismissals?
It could well be. There comes a time in a player's career when he makes it a point to make his effort count. For instance, Sharma would dearly like to regain his place in the Test side, and for that consistency is certainly important.
But hopefully, that will come from better shot selection rather than at the cost of natural flair. A dour Rohit Sharma would be a negation of beauty and joy of batsmanship.
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