And couldn't. With a casual grace, Sharma showed impeccable timing and power to drive, flick, pull, and cut the ball between fielders and to the boundary at Headingley to lead India to a thrashing of Sri Lanka by seven wickets. Sharma spared nobody, not even his old friend Lasith Malinga, off whom he hit consecutive boundaries in the fifth over of India's chase for 265.
The first over of Sri Lanka's best spinner Dhananjaya de Silva, Sharma greeted with two sixes. As the field spread back, the boundaries slowed down but he kept picking gaps for runs. His 14th boundary earned him a record fifth hundred in a single World Cup, a third in a row. Moments later he was surprisingly out on 103 off 94 balls, not picking a slower ball from Kasun Rajitha. Though Sharma put India in prime position to win, he admonished himself for giving away his wicket so soon after the hundred, when he knew he was at his most vulnerable.
"I was disappointed that the last three hundreds I got (102, 104, 103), I couldn't go on to bat as deep as I could," he said. "My aim and goal is always to bat as deep as I can, because after a hundred it's your mistake that can cost you your wicket. That is what I have felt always. Yeah, little disappointed, but I'll make sure if, come the semis, I'm in that situation I wouldn't just let it go like that."
This from a man who already owns the biggest score in ODIs, 264, and is the only batsman with three double-centuries among his 27 ODI hundreds. On Saturday, he became the first to score five centuries in a single World Cup and matched Sachin Tendulkar's record of six hundreds in a World Cup career. His tournament-leading 647 runs made him the fourth man to pass 600 in a single World Cup. He's averaging 92.42 in this World Cup, with a strike rate of almost a run a ball.
His overall average in World Cups is 69.78 compared to his ODI average of 49.18. He rises to the occasion. Sharma credits his staggering numbers on finding "a good space." Earlier this year, he'd asked former India star Yuvraj Singh, "like a big brother to me," how he came right during the 2011 World Cup that India won after a poor lead-in. Singh told him to find his good space.
Sharma declined on Saturday to define his — "That is very personal" — but it involves getting his head away from the game, putting each match behind him quickly, and focusing on the next one. Having his wife Ritika and their six-month-old baby daughter around also helps him.
Producing runs for India for 12 years has made Sharma one of the country's most famous and wealthy sportsmen. He often needs a police escort. He's also learned to switch off. He says he doesn't check messages from family and friends until the day after matches, usually on the bus ride to the next city.
He also claims not to like talking about his deeds, because it makes him think of the past, even if that past happened in the last few hours. "It's just staying in the present because it's our duty, it's our job just to come out fresh, and get the job done again," he said. "I'm not here for records. I'm here to play cricket. I'm here to play and score runs and lift the cup."
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne, no slouch in the runs business, said young prospects could do worse than copy Sharma. "Every time he gets a start, he keeps scoring big runs. That's what we want," Karunaratne said. "He was fearless. One time he wanted to take a charge and knew what bowlers he wants to respect. Those are the little things he's mastered really well. He's hungry for runs and his plan is simple; keep batting and batting. That's what I want for the youngsters. He's an ideal candidate to watch."
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