There is a saying about Rohit Sharma in white-ball cricket: he rarely scores ugly runs. When he gets going, he’s a treat to watch. His shots are often dubbed with that adjective which seems laudatory but does disservice to an athlete’s hard work: effortless. His timing of the cricket ball is right up there among the best of the modern game.

But in his 48-ball 67 against Chennai Super Kings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Friday night would have to be filed under the “other” category.

Does it matter, though? As it turned out, his was the only half century in the entire match and the innings that proved to be the difference on a pitch where spinners from both sides enjoyed their night out.

Mumbai Indians won by 46 runs and managed to keep their incredible record of not losing in Chennai for four consecutive times (a streak that dates back to 2010 for various reasons) while CSK suffered their first defeat at Chepauk since their return. Incidentally, the last time CSK lost a match at their fortress was also at the hands of MI, back in 2015.

Rohit quipped at the post-match presentation ceremony that he was glad to lose the toss and be asked to bat first as the pitch got slower and slower, while there was no significant increase in the amount of dew in the latter parts of the match. That meant batting first was the better option.

Rohit also played to the gallery when accepting his man of the match award, saying CSK missed the services of Mahendra Singh Dhoni (who was out reportedly due to a fever) in a run-chase and that it was a boost for his side when they found out the former Indian captain was playing.

Even if it was mere lip service, there was one significant aspect to that comment. Dhoni would have seen how Rohit batted and known that this was not a pitch to play expansive shots from the word go, like his batsmen ended up doing. This was a pitch where one needed to spend as much time as possible, accumulate runs rather than going hell for leather.

Leading from the front

It’s been a long wait for Rohit Sharma to score a half-century, a wait that extends back to match No 27 of IPL 2018. It was, coincidentally, at CSK’s “home” that he made his last fifty-plus score in the tournament – 56* in a run-chase in Pune. He has come close on a couple of occasions so far this season (twice getting out in the forties) and arguably, in those matches he played more fluently.

Rohit Sharma's scores in IPL 2019

Player Innings by Innings Overall numbers 
Rohit Sharma 1) vs DC: 14 off 13 balls
2) vs RCB: 48 off 33 balls
3) vs KXIP: 32 off 18 balls
4) vs CSK: 13 off 18 balls
5) vs SRH: 11 of 14 balls
6) vs KXIP: DNP
7) vs RR: 47 off 32 balls
8) vs RCB: 28 off 19 balls
9) vs DC: 30 off 22 balls
10) vs RR: 5 off 7 balls
11) vs CSK: 67 off 48 balls
Matches: 10
Innings: 10
Runs: 295 
Average: 29.5
Strike rate: 131.69

Against CSK in Chennai, he started off well enough. The first ball of the match, wide and swinging away, was square driven elegantly for four. But soon Quinton de Kock fell and it was also evident the pitch was not going to be the easiest to bat on – Harbhajan Singh bowled three overs in the powerplay for just nine runs, as the ball gripped and turned.

At the end of six overs, Rohit was on 20 from 17 balls. But when stand-in captain Suresh Raina gave the ball to Harbhajan to bowl a fourth over on the trot, the Mumbai skipper knew something had to give. He hit his former teammate for two sixes – one of them just about clearing the fielder in the deep.

And then he buckled down again, hitting the occasional boundary along the way to reach his fifty off 37 balls. At this point he had lost Evin Lewis at the other end after a second-wicket partnership of 75 (which would the highest partnership in the entire match). With Santner in the middle of a great spell and Imran Tahir exerting control in the middle overs, Rohit was forced to play more dot balls than he would usually once he got his eye in.

There would be one final push though. Of the 16th over Tahir bowled, Rohit would hit two fours and a six through the leg side to give his side some momentum. Of those three boundaries, only one of them was well-timed – both the fours could have stopped but for poor efforts at the boundary by Dhruv Shorey; the six just about cleared the same fielder’s head. Rohit had a glance at the toe-end of his bat on more than occasion, he even had his willow changed at the back-end of his innings.

But on a pitch where no one else quite got going, Rohit found a way to. He was eventually caught off a mishit at long on, with his 48-ball knock contained four boundaries and three sixes.

“It was a satisfying innings,” Rohit said after the match. “I was getting 30s and 40s but not getting half-centuries. At no point was I worried about my form because I was hitting the ball well. I knew the day will come, and I guess today was the day.”

It was the first half century of the season for the Mumbai captain and one that proved to be more than enough in Chepauk. It was not always pretty, it was not the most pleasing-on-the-eye Rohit knock, but it was what his side needed at the home of the champions and he delivered.