Rohit shows the way for Men in Blue with the bat- The New Indian Express



Express News Service

AHMEDABAD: After Rohit Sharma took over as India’s T20 captain following a below-par showing at the 2021 World Cup, he wanted to see a change in the attitude of the players. Mainly, he wanted the batting group to be more enterprising, to be more proactive. The Men In Blues’ conservative approach (preserving wickets before exploding at the back end) had exposed them on the global stage a few times. So, Rohit put down a gauntlet.

“After the T20 World Cup in Dubai, we felt that there needs to be a change in our attitude,” he had said on a TV show. “… how we play the game. We had a clear message and they were ready to accept it. If the messages are clear from the captain and the coach, individuals will try and do that. For that, they need freedom and clarity which is what we are trying to do. We are trying to give them as much freedom as possible.”That message applied to Rohit himself. In both white-ball formats.

This was going to be a challenge because he wasn’t that sort of batter. Sure, he was already a giant of 50-over cricket but most of his exploits had come on the back of watchful starts before picking up steam in the second part of the innings. The guy with three doubles in a format where no one else had two was going to relearn the grammar of 50-over cricket. Almost two years since he officially replaced Virat Kohli as skipper in the second-longest format, it’s fair to say he has reinvented himself for the greater good of the team.

Some simple numbers bear this out. From 2014, the year when Rohit became India’s go-to opener till the end of 2021, his white-ball batting ascended peak after peak. Somewhere in that journey, he also became one of the best openers in the game. He rattled off 25 100s in 113 games at an average of 60.31. Milestones flowed from his blade and World Cup records were set as he became an alpha at the top. But, somewhere during his era-defining legacy, the goalposts of the format had changed. A new strategy was required.

Shikhar Dhawan was jettisoned. Kohli had the gears but you don’t ask the emperor to wear new clothes. Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill had shown glimpses but there was space for only one. And they were new. KL Rahul’s finishing nous meant he was going to be invaluable at No. 5. The choice, then, was simple.

Will the new Rohit please stand up?

Since the beginning of 2022, the volume of runs is down. The average is down. The 100s are down. He’s getting out more often. But none of that matters for he’s scoring runs at an unprecedented rate as an opener (from an Indian perspective) while still averaging more than 50. As a batter, he’s as fast as Shahid Afridi’s lifetime strike rate while his mean is better than Sachin Tendulkar’s career average. An average of 50.24 at a strike rate of over 115. An interpretation of what AB de Villiers would be like if he opened the batting.

That is an ODI cheat code. Illegal.

He’s scored only two ODI 100s since 2022. After scoring a ton once every 4.5 games, he’s had one every 17 games. But all of that is irrelevant because he’s practising what he preached to the choir two years ago.
At the World Cup, he has played most of his greatest hits of the last two years. Coming down the wicket to pump the ball straight back in the first over. Happy to take risks by going inside out. Fairly okay with losing his wicket inside the powerplay.

Between 2014 and 2021, he lost his wicket once every 63.36 deliveries. Since then, he has been dismissed once every 43.41 balls. Marrying intent with impact.For a long time, India’s safety-first approach had a floor but the ceiling was limited. Rohit’s high-risk/ high-reward approach has given them a ceiling where the sky’s the limit.

That’s been on display multiple times at the World Cup itself. He has rendered banana peel chases meaningless inside the first powerplay (79 chasing 192 against Pakistan, 94 chasing 273 against Afghanistan and 63 chasing 257 against Bangladesh). This style also gives the team the security of an above-par total when setting a target.

A 24-ball 40 against South Africa meant the latter were always playing catch up. In the semifinal versus New Zealand, 397 was above par by about 20-30, at least. But Rohit’s 29-ball 47 helped them get there. In an alternate universe, the Black Caps would have been chasing 375. And with the start they had, they would have had more than a prayer of running it down.

Both batting coach (Vikram Rathour) and chief coach (Rahul Dravid) spoke about Rohit’s conviction and belief. “It’s Rohit’s idea,” Rathour had said after the South Africa game. “He’s taking the initiative. He’s one guy who’s leading with his actions.”

Dravid was more intimate. “Rohit has certainly been a leader without a doubt,” he had said before the Netherlands game. “I think he’s led by example both on and off the field. Some of the starts that he’s given us, the way he’s cracked open games for us… it made it easier for the guys who followed.”

Nowhere else has this transformation been evident than in the powerplay. A strike rate of 133.08, with 21 out of the 28 coming in this phase. It was what Rohit the captain wanted when he took the side.

While most captains go about building the team in their image, Rohit has achieved something more fundamental. Rebuilding Rohit, the batter, in the image of Rohit, the captain.

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