2013: The year that changed Rohit Sharma

In march 2012, Sachin Tendulkar said that either Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli c 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 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 Rahane was waiting in the wings. But Captain Dhoni had great faith in him, and hence, selectors gave him a long rope. Still he continued his pattern of having many more number of off-days than the days when he performed well. His place in team was questioned, 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 high of Sachin’s praise, he had fallen to becoming butt of cricketing jokes.

In the meantime, after World Cup 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 decision of making Rohit Sharma captain of the Mumbai Indians that year. Captaincy brought a sense of responsibility and maturity in Rohit Sharma’s batting. He started to convert 50s into daddy hundreds and looked to bat throughout India’s inning. His freakish wicket throwing shots has suddenly disappeared. Rohit Sharma 2.0 was loaded.

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 even better than performance of India’s premier batsmen 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 number compared to Kohli, is in chasing but Kohli is superman while chasing and none comes close to him in that aspect. Kohli while chasing has an average of 99.33 in winning cause whereas in same period since 13 October 2013, Rohit Sharma while chasing has an averages of 65.22 in winning cause, which is also exceptional.

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.

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 Sachin ( read GOD ) in the first place.

 

This article has also been published here at sportskeeda.

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India in search of fast-bowling all-rounder

When we roam around in India and watch youngsters play cricket, one thing remains common across India is that in team of 11 players, there are 5 such players who bat, bowl and also field well. They perform day in and day out as allrounder for their team.  As they get little older,  few from those 5 players get selected for their school/college/U16/U19 team. They come under a trainer/coach and first thing a coach does to them is to feed their young mind with  singular vision i.e either pick up bat or pick up a ball to be successful in long term and if they are talented enough  they go on to become future batsmen or bowler of their  State team  and get selected in National team. These coaches  can’t be blamed alone because in India every budding cricketer aspires to become either Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid or Kohli, there is no fast bowling allrounder in vicinity to look up to or to be their role model.

All these training years under professional coaches, prematurely kill their allrounder skill, and incidentally those who survive and make it to regular playing XI of team India are spinning all-rounders. Last fast bowling allrounder that India had was Kapil Dev who retired 22 years back. It’s not that India didn’t have fast bowling all-rounder in these 22 years but they were bits & pieces allrounder and utility player at best, they never reached class of Kapil Dev.

Modern day cricket is very demanding, it demands skill sets to survive and allrounders, especially in ODIs, have become essential for any team that aspires to be top ODI team of the world and wants to win ICC tournaments,sadly, India lacks one such all-rounder. India had allrounders who were either more a bowler or a batsmen than allrounders who are equally good at both.

India have flirted with many fast bowling allrounder option, one such option was Robin Singh. He gave his heart & soul on field and even won few matches for India. His commitment for team was admirable. He dived all around in field when he fielded, he bowled his heart out, he ran between wickets like he was running for his life but he never looked like a player who could be a top all-rounder and his stats of 69 wickets and 2336 runs in 136 ODI matches proves the same.

At one point of time in mid 90s, there was a fad to use lower order batsmen as pinch-hitter.  In India, Srinath was given role of pinch- hitter in few matches. He scored a fifty too but it was an experiment that was destined to fail and no wonder it doomed.

Ganguly proved a better seam-bowling all-rounder than others who played for India in all these 22 years. He had few five-wicket haul under his belt, he took 100 wickets in ODIs. His ball swung in the air and off the pitch as well, but his top class batting and captaincy over-burdened him and after a while he stopped bowling. Had he continued his bowling and concentrated on his fitness, he could have been answer to India’s woes of fast-bowling allrounder.

India have always had spin-bowling allrounder but never had one  allrounder who is able to score century on a day and take a five-wicket haul on another. One  allrounder who fits in the above criteria is Yuvraj Singh, although he justified the tag for a short duration. He won India ICC World Cup 2011 with his all around performance. He excelled, both with bat as well as ball, in the tournament and was allrounder in true sense for team India in 2011 world cup. He ended tournament with 362 runs and 15 wickets to his name and was adjudged man of the series.

Another man who filled allrounder void for few years was Sachin Tendulkar. His excellence with bat is well known but he was also called “man with golden arm” due to his knack of picking wickets at right moment. He won matches for India with ball; with his seam up bowling, with his leg spins as well as with off spins.  He had 154 ODI wickets to his credit but he also stopped bowling in second half of his cricketing career.

Recently India experimented with Stuart Binny who made his name in IPL but couldn’t carry his IPL form in national team. He could neither convince with bat nor with ball in few chances that he got.

Other recent additions to India’s allrounder list are Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya and Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Barring Hardik Pandya, all other are spin bowling allrounder. Ravindra Jadeja has almost cemented his place in team as spin bowling allrounder and his place is sometimes challenged by similar styled Axar patel but both look their own pale shadow in overseas condition. They struggle with bat and their bowling also doesn’t raise any confidence about them serving as allrounder in overseas condition.

Hardik Pandya is latest addition in India’s search for allrounders. This selection reflects desperation  on part of BCCI. He hardly has any domestic cricket experience. His few sparkling inning for Mumbai Indians have made him eligible to be in Indian team as allrounder. It tells you dearth of fast bowling allrounder India has that it requires only few performances with bat and ball to make any player eligible for a place as allrounder in team India.

This move of selecting Hardik Pandya is more of a gamble than a sound decision backed by stats. Hardik  may still surprise his detractors with his bat for team India but expecting him to perform with ball as well, will be asking far too much from him. This kind of selection is quick-fix of a long term problem.

One notable man who could have answered India’s search for allrounder was Irfan Pathan. He made sensational debut for India with ball. His swing bowling made batsmen dance to his tunes, he was a sensation until Greg Chappell tried to convert him to an allrounder. He started well with bat but pressure of becoming allrounder took a toll on his bowling which was his USP. No wonder he could not cement his place as allrounder in team India and in search of allrounder, India lost a fast bowler who could have taken forward legacy of Zaheer Khan, Srinath and Kapil dev. However, now, Irfan Pathan  is making his name in domestic circuit, recently in Syed Mustaq Ali trophy he did well with both bat and ball and shown fighting spirit to make a comeback in team India.

But none of these Indian allrounders, in these 22 years, could match excellence of Kallis  or good performances of Shane Watson. India didn’t have their own Dwayne Bravo, Abdul Razzaq, Shaun Pollock or Chris Cairns in all these years . India will never need of a fast bowling allrounder in sub-continent, spin bowling allrounders like Jadeja, Patel fits in perfectly in sub-continent but if India has to win big tournaments in overseas condition, they need to restore balance of the team with fast bowling allrounders.

World class batsmen come one after another in India because of concerted effort at grass-root level and thanks to infrastructure improvement  by BCCI through state cricket boards. BCCI also needs to wake up to requirement of fast bowling allrounders and  make sure that fast bowling allrounders at junior level are picked at right time and provided support, training and skills to resolve India’s woe of fast bowling allrounder else India’s search would continue till eternity and will forever haunt India in overseas conditions.

This article has also been published here at sportskeeda.