2013: The year that changed Rohit Sharma
In March 2012, Sachin Tendulkar said that either Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli can break his record of 100 international centuries. This statement by Sachin left many people baffled, as Rohit Sharma at that time was struggling in the middle-order in ODIs, was yet to make a debut in Tests, and had made just 2 centuries in the last 5 years.
Rohit pre-2013: Elegant but haphazard
Rohit Sharma, early in his career, showed glimpses of his class. In 2008, he had an impressive outing in Australia. The first impression that anyone had of Rohit Sharma was built on the Inzamam-ul-Haq-like time that he had to play any shot, and Inzamamsque lazy elegance that he exhibited while playing his shots. He was easy on eyes and his shots were elegant, but out of nowhere, he used to play a freakish shot, costing India his wicket. The habit of throwing away his wicket at crucial junctures left his backers, his critics and everyone else frustrated.
Time was running out for him as he was not converting his potential into performance and potential doesn't win you matches but performances do. Cries of dropping him out of the team grew louder as other equally gifted player like Ajinkya Rahane were waiting in the wings.
But the captain, MS Dhoni had great faith in him, and hence, the selectors gave him a long rope. Still, he continued his pattern of having more number of off-days than the days when he performed well. His place in the team was questioned, and experts began to ask when will his talent convert into performances, when will he become consistent. The word 'talent' which was used to define Rohit Sharma, had by then turned into a word that was used to mock and ridicule him on social media. From the high of Sachin's praise, he had fallen to becoming the butt of cricketing jokes.
Rohit post-2013: Elegant still, and consistent
In the meantime, after World Cup of 2011, Indian openers started to struggle and Dhoni, on 23 January 2013, keeping his unflinching trust in Rohit Sharma, threw him the challenge of opening for India in ODIs, and since then, Rohit Sharma never looked back.
He started scoring lots of runs consistently, but still, the flourish was missing. The series that changed Rohit Sharma was Australia's tour of India in 2013 where he scored that famous first double hundred in Bangalore. His consistency in that series was admirable. He scored a double century, a century, a fifty and amassed a record-breaking 491 runs in that bilateral series which India won 3-2. 491 run is still the highest run amassed by any batsmen in any bilateral series.
The missing block in the talent puzzle was found in that 2013 home series against Australia, and for this, some credit must be given to the decision of making Rohit the captain of Mumbai Indians that year. Captaincy brought a sense of responsibility and maturity in Rohit Sharma's batting. He started to convert the 50s into daddy hundreds and looked to bat throughout India's innings. His freakish wicket throwing shots had suddenly disappeared. Rohit Sharma 2.0 was loaded.
Hand in hand with Virat Kohli
His maturity post 2013 Australian tour is evident from the fact that before the series, in 102 matches that he played, he averaged just 32.37 which didn't justify his talent but since 13 October 2013, in 46 matches, he has scored 2450 run at an average of 61.25 and strike rate of 96.60, including 8 centuries ( 4 of which were 150 and above scores ) which is comparable to the performance of India's premier batsman Virat Kohli, who in same period played 58 matches scored 2637 run at an average of 54.93 and strike rate of 96.38, including 10 centuries.
In away matches since 13 October 2013, Virat Kohli played 24 ODIs and scored 955 runs at an average of 45.47 including 4 centuries whereas Rohit Sharma in same period played 20 away ODIs and scored 960 runs at an average of 53.33 including 3 centuries.
In the matches that India won in the same timeframe, Kohli played 28 ODIs and scored 1502 runs at an average of 71.52 whereas Rohit played 21 ODIs and scored 1317 run at an average of 73.16.
Where he lacks, in numbers as compared to Kohli, is in chasing targets given that Kohli is a master of run-chases and none comes close to him in that aspect. Kohli, while chasing, has an average of 99.33 in winning cause, whereas, in the same period, Rohit has an average of 65.22 in winning cause while chasing, which by no means is ordinary.
This is in no way an attempt to compare their batting prowess but these stats are put to reflect the consistency that Rohit Sharma has brought in his game and how important cog he has become in India's ODI scheme of things since accepting the role of opener.
The long-term future
He has now combined his talent with consistency in scoring runs and is becoming successful in converting his potential into performances. He looks set to serve India as a successful opener in ODIs for a long time and take forward the legacy of the great Sachin Tendulkar himself in that opener’s slot. Filling Sachin's shoes is a very tough and an intimidating task, but numbers back Rohit to do it successfully. Now we know why the master had put in so much trust in his fellow Mumbaikar when he said that Rohit could be the one to break his record. In any case, we should not have doubted the judgement of the legend in the first place.