Rohit Sharma became an ODI phenom by batting a certain way. He would start watchfully, set himself up to bat through the 50 overs, and explode in the end overs. This approach brought him three ODI double-centuries.
Three double-hundreds. No one else has even made two.
The last two double-tons in ODIs, scored in the space of two months, were made by Indian openers not named Rohit. It fell to him instead to interview the two double-centurions, Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill, on bcci.tv after the latter scored his against New Zealand in Hyderabad.
Rohit, though, has had a definite hand in the recent successes of his opening partner(s).
He has torn up his old template and has gone much harder and faster in the early exchanges. He is pumping the ball over the top, taking regular trips down the pitch, and he’s even been open to playing reverse-sweeps, as he did against Mitchell Santner during India’s slim chase in the second ODI in Raipur.
Rohit’s new approach has allowed his partners to ease themselves in and play their own game. The new approach has also opened up Rohit to dismissals. Case in point, in Hyderabad, Rohit jumped out of the crease to Blair Tickner, but the ball stuck in the surface, causing the batter to skew his shot to mid-on. It has opened him up to some criticism as well. Rohit has now gone 16 ODI innings without a hundred – his last triple-figure score was 119 against Australia in Bengaluru back in January 2020.
At one point, Dinesh Lad, a Mumbai cricket tragic who has also coached Rohit, expressed his surprise over Rohit’s high-risk white-ball approach.
“Yes, he is playing a high-risk game for quite some time now, which he should not,” Lad told PTI. “I have no idea why he is doing that. I think he is making a mistake in playing an overly aggressive game.”
Okay, so why is even Rohit doing this in ODI cricket? Because the ODI landscape has changed. Because you can’t afford to sit back and preserve wickets in the powerplay on flat pitches. Because you need to rack up dew-proof totals while batting first, especially in India, where the ODI World Cup will be held later this year.
Rohit’s high intent came to the fore recently during his 67-ball 83, which propelled India to 373 for 7 against Sri Lanka in Guwahati. Dasun Shanaka then gave India a scare with his unbeaten 108 off 88 balls as the ball slid onto the bat nicely in dewy conditions later in the evening. India’s attack eventually defended the total, thanks in no small part to that high intent at the top.
In the build-up to the 2022 T20 World Cup, Rohit had been at the forefront of India’s transformed approach in the shortest format. He struggled for form during that tournament, and India’s execution of the approach fell apart in tricky Australian conditions, but it wasn’t always for a lack of trying.
Now, in the lead up to the 2023 ODI World Cup, Rohit is bringing the high-intent approach to a different format.
Since the end of the 2019 ODI World Cup, Rohit has had a powerplay strike rate of 92.55. That puts him in sixth place among openers who have batted in at least 15 innings in that period, but while Jonny Bairstow (106.35) is clearly ahead of the pack, Quinton de Kock (95.93), Jason Roy (95.89), Gill (94.88) and Finn Allen (93.19) aren’t that far ahead of Rohit.
The recent numbers starkly contrast with those from the start of 2013 – when Rohit became a regular ODI opener – and the end of the 2019 World Cup. His powerplay strike rate was just 70.47 then.
Rahul Dravid, India’s current head coach, who has tracked Rohit’s career from his Under-19 days, spoke about Rohit’s evolution as an ODI batter in glowing terms on the eve of the third ODI against New Zealand in Indore.
“He has been a phenomenal cricketer and I think he obviously started off as this really precocious talent and I remember seeing him for the first time when he was 17 or 18 – [he] just came out of Under-19s – and you could see that you know you’re looking at something slightly different here,” Dravid said. “And he has gone on to prove that. You look at a lot of kids who look different at 19 but not all of them go onto actually achieve their potential. What Rohit has done over the last 15 years I think now has actually changed his potential and he’s been a great servant for Indian cricket and has done really well.
“Maybe like you said the turning point was when ten years ago he got the opportunity to finally open and really his hallmark has obviously been his performances in ICC tournaments, like we said in 2019, but also his ability to score big runs when he gets going. Someone who has got three double-hundreds in this format is an absolutely phenomenal achievement.
“So, yeah he has been pretty successful and yeah he’s someone who has got that game right – an all-round game and you can’t really think of a kind of bowling you can bowl to him. If you bowl fast and short, he will take you down and he will take down spinners. He plays swing well. So, he’s got a really good, complete game. So, yeah he has been a fantastic player for India and he has been batting well for us even in the last few games; he has been terrific to watch – the way he has been playing. So, it’s great to have him play the way he is.”
Indore has already witnessed an ODI double-century from someone not named Rohit. The tiny boundaries, fast outfield and bash-through-the-line pitch here could potentially be just the right ingredients for another double-ton, or at least a big hundred, on Tuesday. Rohit may or may not score it, but his gung-ho approach at the top might have an impact on whoever reaches that landmark.