It had been more than 18 months since Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni featured in a partnership. The last time these two got together was in Perth in January 2016 when Rohit scored an unbeaten 171 and Dhoni came in only in the 45th over with India trying to scale the 300-run mark while batting first. Before this game, Rohit as an opener and Dhoni as a No. 6 batsman had been involved in a century stand only once – when Rohit had scored a 158-ball 209 and Dhoni contributed with a belligerent 38-ball 62 to help India to a mammoth total of 383 against Australia in Bengaluru in November 2013.
On Sunday (August 27), however, it was a completely different situation. India were reduced to 61 for 4 in the 16th over when Rohit and Dhoni joined forces. In the previous game, both these players had been involved in century stands but those were two different ones in between a massive collapse. In the third ODI, India found themselves in a precarious situation again, and this time, both pace and spin contributed to their tumble in their pursuit of 218.
Dhoni, the former India skipper, is one who thrives on pressure situations and prefers to fight his way out. The current limited-overs vice-captain, Rohit, is a free-flowing player who never lets the situation dictate terms. So when the two went about re-establishing order to an Indian innings in disarray, it was a mix of both worlds. Pulls, cuts, drives, going over the top and the likes; it was a typical Rohit innings glittered with stroke-play and regular boundaries. At the other end too, a familiar show was on display, one of hardwork and grind, a constant lookout for the gaps for singles and twos, hard running between the wickets, and capitalising on the loose ones whenever the opportunity came along.
Both are limited-overs heavyweights in their own right and both came up with knocks that calmed India’s nerves after regular strikes early in their innings left the side with a lot of catching up to do. However, the assured manner in which Dhoni went about his game, providing solid support to Rohit, who was doing most of the boundary scoring. Going about their own way in dealing with the situation, Rohit and Dhoni scored at different strike-rates and had their own methods of handling the bowlers. And both these styles merged together into a 157-run partnership for the fifth wicket that helped India seal the series at the Pallekele in Kandy.
Despite being in early trouble, skipper Virat Kohli refused to term the top-order failure as a collapse, mentioning that the batsmen tried to show application in this game. While Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli departed early, KL Rahul who batted at No. 4 for the first time in this series, started the rebuilding job with Rohit. They managed to add 42 runs for the third wicket before the introduction of Akila Dananjaya saw India lose Rahul and Kedar Jadhav in quick succession.
“I don’t think it’s an issue. People like to make issues out of it. We have chased small targets convincingly before. Here the wicket was a bit more challenging. The last game we had a collapse. Today wasn’t a collapse. The other batsmen really applied themselves. Rohit was outstanding, MS was great as well. We have to be a bit patient with the younger players. Have to understand how to take our games forward,” Kohli said after the game, while being lavish in his praise of Rohit and Dhoni.
Before the Rohit-Dhoni rescue act, India had again managed to restrict Sri Lanka’s batting and the chief contributor in that regard was Japsrit Bumrah, who picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs and extended his tally of wickets in this series to 11. A regular member of the Indian limited-overs set-up, Bumrah has also been in close quarters with Rohit, who leads the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
“It was a great innings, we were in trouble at 70 for 4,” said Bumrah, pleased with the batting efforts that helped India over the line with close to five overs to spare. “He (Rohit) needed to take responsibility and he did that. It was great to see him playing with Mahi bhai. It was great to see their partnership take us over the line. It was a good win. It’s always good to see when a player wins you a game. He has been doing so well for so many years. It’s always good to see one of his great innings,” he added.
Since Stuart Binny’s six-wicket haul against Bangladesh in July 2014, no Indian had picked up five or more wickets in an innings in ODI cricket until today. Having missed out on one in the last game, finishing with 4 for 43, Bumrah took his game a notch up on a wicket that had a lot more assistance as compared to the second ODI at the same venue. As a result, he registered excellent figures of 5 for 27, with his wickets evenly spread out. He dismissed three of the top four before rattling the middle order to ensure that Sri Lanka did not tee off in the latter part of their innings.
“The last wicket was a bit on the slower side so that time I thought I have to use variations and slower balls because the ball was not coming onto the bat. This wicket when we started the ball was seaming a bit so you try to use that to our advantage, bowl a good line and length, try to get good results from the wicket, so we tried to do that and it was a good day, it worked in our favour,” said Bumrah, who was at his pacy best on the day.
In the previous game, it was the Bumrah, Rohit and Dhoni combination, along with Bhuvneshwar’s heroics, that helped India overcome Sri Lanka. The trio was at it again, ensuring that India remained in control for large parts of the game and thus pocket the series with two more games to go. While Kohli has suggested that India could try out different combinations in the remaining games, the luxury to do that has been provided by these players whose contributions at different junctures has sustained India’s dominance.