Rohit Sharma has taken world cricket by storm after his marvel yesterday. The extraordinary knock is there to stay in the record books for some time now. The superlative innings has carved some beautiful moments on the hall of fame wall of one-day cricket. Not taking anything away from a batting display of the greatest degree, it is still inconclusive to solve India’s issues with the batting order.
Ajinkya Rahane made his case for a slot in the top two in Rohit Sharma’s absence, and Shikhar Dhawan has shown good form in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka. Since Shikhar Dhawan doesn’t naturally fit in the middle order, the shuffle has to happen between the two Mumbai batsmen.
Rohit made his debut for India in 2007, and could not manage to string a series of performances complementary of his talent. One of the most easy-on-the-eye players, he has always been a class apart. He made the opening slot his own when given the chance, but despite stellar performances in the Champions Trophy in England and a man-of-the-series batting presentation against Australia in India last year, he has not given away his habit of throwing away his wicket with a sudden lapse in concentration.
This habit almost cost him yesterday’s world record. Batting on 4 off 15, he charged down the wicket to a wide delivery and his wild heave was dropped at third man. How different the headlines would have been had the sitter been taken! But even if one considers listless bowling, hapless fielding, and batsmen-friendly conditions, it wasn’t just another day at the office. Not many can manage to score 264 runs in a 50-over game in however friendly the circumstances turn. Rohit’s second double hundred in one-day cricket is reflective of the talent amassed by the player, but these innings aren’t played every day.
The problems with Rohit as an opener persisted in yesterday’s innings as well. He was failing to rotate the strike, piling the pressure on his partner, and trying to be too adventurous when things weren’t going his way – something he is guilty of often. He accelerates remarkably once he reaches fifty (reached 64 in 81 balls, and piled the next 200 runs in 92 balls), but it isn’t pragmatic to believe that he will go on to pile on runs every time he gets a start. If he is not able to replicate his high scores, and leaves the pitch with 20 runs from 40 balls in Australia, the middle order will have a hard time negotiating the bowling.
Rahane, on the other hand, starts relatively smoothly, finding the gaps, rotating the strike, and hitting boundaries. He also has a hundred, while opening in England, to boast off. The Mumbai and Rajasthan Royals opener is a little underused when batting two-down or three-down. Surprisingly, Rahane has also been getting dismissed off soft deliveries. Despite this, a bubble of surety and assurance surrounds his batting, and he looks a better player as an opener than a middle-order batsman.
It might be difficult to predict who is a better opener overseas – Rohit or Rahane? But, in the middle overs, Rohit is certainly a handful, with his ability to hit the long ball and accelerate. He has shown in his Mumbai Indians outfit that he is a worthy finisher. But if he can manage to score at a better rate and provide stability at the top (unlike his horrid outing in South Africa), Rohit can be formidable in opening the innings. Rahane, on the other hand, can offer stability in the middle scoring at a run-a-ball. In a reversal of roles, Rahane can play second fiddle to Dhawan while opening and Rohit can come in at four and manoeuvre the field to good effect and up the scoring rate in the middle overs.
No matter what role is given to the players, they need to reform their batting styles if they are to contribute to the team. Both of them have justified their position as an opener one way or the other. The problem of plenty is a blessing in disguise for any team selector. Yet, the preferable batting order needs to be figured out. The upcoming tri-series in Australia can be used to test the best-suited combination of the team. Hopefully, the potential of both Rohit and Rahane is extracted to the maximum level, and it reaps benefits to the team.
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