“Not really. Honestly, there were some nerves to start with.”
Twice he was rapped on the pads by nip-backers, once he pushed feebly down the wrong line. Karan wasn’t just working up the pace but building excellent rhythm. The fifth ball of that working over beat Rohit with the angle, as the ball hit the deck and straightened.
Rohit wasn’t pleased with himself, and he seemed to have decided he was going to take the attack to the bowlers. He stepped out to slap Karan over mid-on first ball of his next over, before rain forced the players indoors.
Until then, it had been brewing up to be a compelling mini-battle between a bowler working up a good pace and a batter trying to shred a temporary lull that seemed to have boiled over from Saturday, when Rohit was troubled by Shaheen Shah Afridi in the lead-up to his dismissal.
Having beaten him twice with deliveries angling away, Afridi managed to sneak through Rohit’s defence with one that jagged back in off the seam. Rohit was only a split-second late in bringing his bat down, by which time the off stump had been pegged back.
Watch – Highlights of Rohit’s boundary-laden fifty
On Monday, Rohit was a bit testy on the field, seemingly irked at catches going down, fielders conceding runs through misfields, and seeing bowlers miss their lengths repeatedly and being unable to close the innings. This frustration peaked when Dipendra Singh Airee and Sompal Kami put on a half-century stand to lift Nepal from 144 for 6 in the 32nd over.
Rohit’s own batting form hasn’t been much of a concern, though. He made 103 in the first Test against West Indies in Dominica and followed that up with twin half-centuries in Port-of-Spain. His only ODI innings on that tour, 12 not out, was possible because India collapsed in a heap while chasing 115 and Rohit had to come out, at No. 7, to complete the job.
Before the Asia Cup, Rohit looked enterprising at India’s camp in Bangalore, batting with a sense of refreshing freedom. But doing it in a match simulation knowing the price of your wicket is far less than in a crunch game against a gun attack like Pakistan’s is a lot easier.
Prior to the Pakistan game, Rohit had spoken of the need to “use my experience” and do what the team needed of him. “Last two years, I’ve played a different style of cricket,” he explained. “I’ve played with a lot of risks but it’s important to balance it out. As a top-order batter, it’s important to bat long and get the team in good situations.
“I’ll look to use my experience. Whenever we get a chance, when I’m in good rhythm, I don’t want to leave it easily. In the last one, one and a half years, I hadn’t thought much about these, I was playing with a lot of risks, but it’s important to bring some balance into my game as well.”
On Monday, there was a small matter of ensuring India didn’t slip up for at stake was a Super Fours berth. And so when he came out to bat after the rain break, with India chasing a revised target of 145 in 23 overs, Rohit seemed clear about his plan.
He took apart Sandeep Lamichhane, Nepal’s biggest threat, by employing the slog sweep to good effect. He was equally effective playing the pull – his trademark shot – and in between even treaded into the inventive by playing scoops and an unreal flick-scoop that, much to his astonishment, managed to clear the rope at deep square leg with ease.
“I wanted to just chip it over short fine, I had no intention to hit it all the way to deep-backward square,” Rohit chuckled after winning the Player-of-the-Match award for his 74 not out. “I timed the ball really well, but the bats these days are really good.”
Rohit’s ease of flicking the switch was quite a treat. After the rain break, it didn’t quite seem the Rohit who had been uncertain against the moving ball. He was quickly into savage T20 mode, picking lengths early, lifting good-length balls down the ground, using his fast hands to thread gaps behind point, and dismissing anything in his zone out of the ground.
He wasn’t just intent on being a foil to Shubman Gill, who had taken off like a bullet train with a succession of stunning back-foot punches. There was a ruthlessness in wanting to finish a job that hadn’t begun quite well.
While Rohit himself wouldn’t read too much into a one-off performance, fully knowing bigger challenges await, he would be the first to acknowledge a good hit in a competitive game is a box worth ticking off in search of that 2019 World Cup mindset.