Result- India win by 5 wickets, leading (and winning) the 5-match series 3-1
When MS Dhoni walked out to the toss at Mohali for the 4th India v/s England ODI- a potential series clincher for the home team after what seemed like ages- it wasn’t his injured thumb that most fans were worried about. The team sheet became an instant topic of much debate, with young Ajinkya Rahane- who had failed in the previous 3 ODIs (therefore rendering Sehwag’s exclusion meaningless)- being left out in favour of, hold your breath, Rohit Sharma.
Nohit to Rohit
87 ODIs later, Rohit is still far from the finished product and has recently taken over the mantle of favorite whipping boy and internet-joke-victim from a miraculously-transformed all-rounder named Ravindra Jadeja- who is incidentally frontrunner for man-of-the-series. Wonder of wonders, 2013 has already made its bizarre mark on the cricket world- with a resilient New Zealand side winning an ODI series in South Africa, Sri Lanka fighting tooth-and-nail to do the same in Australia and India turning the tables on a fast-rising England squad. Hence, less stunning is the fact that Ravindra Jadeja is the preferred Saurashtra player amongst two in the ODI squad- with Pujara still made to wait patiently to for his ODI debut, which, one suspects, will come at Dharamsala so that the management can justify his selection at the cost of an important Ranji Final v/s Mumbai.
But first, it was the management’s turn to justify Rohit’s inclusion at the cost of his own Mumbai Ranji final. It was also, many guessed, Rohit’s last chance to prove himself- failure of which lead to a long layoff that there was no coming back from.
While Ashwin once again pushed Jadeja into the spotlight by bowling like the real part-timer, England managed to put up a decent fighting total of 250+, excess of which was chased only thrice in 13 ODIs at Mohali. Another Gambhir failure, and it was time for Rohit to prove that the opener’s slot up for grabs wasn’t a long shot after all. His previous 5 ODI scores of 4,0,0,5,5 screamed for another career-shattering single-digit figure, especially when he was suck on 5 for close to 11 balls.
Keep the gates open
But then, Rohit began to realize that having enough balls to play and get himself in could only result in having a greater opportunity to score runs, than coming in the lower-middle order and trying to adapt to tougher situations. Openers are rarely rushed for time in ODIs, easily enjoying enough opportunity to push their averages higher than their colleagues down the order- which is why Sehwag has been let go after his average never rose above the mid-30s.
The rest, as they said, is history. Most would believe that his success (83) may not bode well for Team India’s future- but even the most hardened cynics must have gasped when he danced down the wicket and caressed a flighted Tredwell ball into the stands. He is a favorite amongst commentators, with most of them still scratching their heads, pondering over how such talent could ever fail to translate into anything significant for so long. To put things into perspective, when Rohit scored his first ODI 50 five years ago, Kohli was playing the final of the U19 World Cup. Kohli came, snatched a top-order position faster than Rohit regained his fitness, and began to enjoy the lion’s share of opportunities- thanks to Gambhir and Sehwag’s failing ways over the last 2 years.
That way to Chennai
With Raina intent on proving that he has always been a useful ODI player, even finishing the chase expertly for a change, the pressure is now on Yuvraj Singh- after yet another failure at his home ground. The fact that Jadeja is playing his middle-overs role as a bowler so effectively puts him in a tricky situation- having to battle with Raina now, because two players serving the exact same purpose cannot possibly continue for too long in the same side. A Pujara-entry at Yuvraj’s cost could lend balance for now, with Raina and Dhoni carrying on their CSK form impressively through the season.
For now, though, the 2013 India v/s England ODI series will go down as a series that threw up more than a few surprises- with India cementing its surprising no. 1 ranking for atleast a few more months. The Champion’s trophy in England will be the perfect place to consolidate this morale-boosting turnaround.