Rohit Sharma's evolution from confounding to sublime
Rohit's evolution into a top-class opener has the fans gushing with expectations - something that was missing earlier in his career.
Countless movies have been made with the plot surrounding a talented protagonist who wastes away his potential due to wrong choices or a lack of ambition. Then, the character undergoes a life-changing experience or a turning-point after which everything falls into place and in the end, success follows.
Rohit Sharma’s cricket career seems to be following a similar storyline.
How many times have we thought of Rohit – in the first half of his career – as a talented but careless batsman who threw it away at crucial junctures?
The turning point in his career came during the Champions Trophy in 2013 when MS Dhoni, then captain of the side, asked him to open the innings.
From then on, the 30-year-old’s career has prospered and he has soared like a phoenix.
Rohit’s ODI Career before and since Jan 2013
These figures tell you the story of two distinct halves of Rohit’s ODI career. The jump in the average and strike rate is astounding.
The figures also highlight his ability to bat deep into the innings and score big hundreds – something that was critically missing in the first half of his career.
Out of his 12 hundreds since 2013, seven have been 135-plus scores. It puts him into an elite group of three batsmen who have 7 or more 135-plus scores in ODIs. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are the other two.
What's more intriguing is the transformation in Rohit's numbers while playing against Australia in Australia.
Prior to 2013, the Mumbai batsman averaged a mere 24 in 9 innings in Australia with a strike rate of 71.3. Since Jan 2013, he averages a mind-boggling 102.16 in 7 innings with a strike rate of 98.71.
Rohit in ODIs, as an opener
Opening the batting has allowed Rohit to take his time to settle at the start of his innings. His overall scoring pattern shows how well he has understood the importance of pacing his innings without dropping his overall strike-rate.
Rohit is always sedate at the start of his innings, then gradually picks up in the middle overs. Then in the last 10 overs, he goes into overdrive, often taking his strike rate beyond 100.
The most recent example of this was his hundred against Australia in Nagpur. He took 15 balls to score his first run, but then went on to score a hundred in the next 80 balls.
The explosive opener has also immensely improved his six-hitting ability which he invariably uses as a release shot. In fact, Rohit tops the list for most sixes hit (123) since Jan 2013. AB de Villiers (106) and Eoin Morgan (100) are the next two batsmen in the list. It’s no surprise that he also holds the record for hitting the most sixes in an innings (16).
Milestones reached as an opener
Since becoming an opener a little over 4 years ago, the stylish batsman has achieved many milestones.
#1 Sharma is the third-highest run-scorer since Jan 2013 with 4055 runs at an average of 56.31. Only Virat Kohli (4881) and AB de Villiers (4151) are ahead of him. His 12 hundreds as an opener since Jan 2013 are second to only Kohli and Hashim Amla.
#2 The Mumbai batsman’s average of 56.31 is the fourth highest for any player who has played more than 50 innings since Jan 2013.
#3 Among openers who have opened the innings more than 10 times, Rohit’s average of 54.21 is the highest, comfortably beating Hashim Amla (50.75).
#4 The 30-year-old became the second fastest opener to reach 4000 ODI runs (83 innings) behind Hashim Amla who reached the milestone in 79 innings.
#5 The ‘Hitman’ smashes a hundred once in every 6.9 innings, which puts him third behind the South African duo of Amla (6.0) and de Kock (6.8) among players with more than 5 hundreds as openers.
Answering the critics
Rohit had a very short stint at opening the innings in South Africa in 2010-11 where his returns were meagre – an average of 9.66 with a strike rate of 49. The experiment was quickly discontinued.
So when Dhoni asked him to open the innings before the 2013 Champions Trophy, there was a lot of scepticism. Could the temperamental batsman master the skills of an opener? Could he successfully negotiate swing and seam? And more importantly, could he be consistent – the most important quality in an opener?
However, ever since beginning his second stint at opening the batting, Rohit has systematically gone about silencing his critics. From a player who was constantly confounding fans with his inconsistency, he has transformed himself into a remarkably consistent and prolific batsman.
The 30-year-old took 18 innings to score his first hundred as opener, but since then has scored 11 centuries in his next 65 innings – a hundred in every 6 innings.
The Hitman’s numbers in India since 2013 are phenomenal – an average of 63 and strike rate of almost 104. However, his away record is also nothing short of exceptional. He averages 53, although with a lesser strike rate of 83. Interestingly, he has scored more hundreds and fifties away from home.
Admittedly, conditions in South Africa and New Zealand have proven to be Rohit’s bane. He averages a paltry 13 in 5 innings in South Africa and 29 in 7 innings in New Zealand (barring 2 WC 2015 games against Ireland and Afghanistan).
However, India has not travelled to South Africa in four years and Rohit has become a far more accomplished batsman in recent years.
Of course, India is scheduled to play a full series in South Africa in Jan 2018, so there will be enough reasons for the Mumbaikar to feel motivated to score heavily against the Proteas.
There is no doubt that the new vice-captain of the Men in Blue has become an integral part of the one day side with his explosive batting. His record as an opener easily suggests that he is the most reliable batsman for Team India behind Virat Kohli.
So, Rohit’s transformation as an opener could not have come at a more opportune time for India, especially with the World Cup 18 months away. Hence it is imperative that the 30-year-old keeps up his excellent form and continues to give India solid starts.
A Rohit Sharma masterclass in full flow is one of the few beautiful sights to watch in cricket at the moment.