Ajinkya Rahane (batting in picture) has evolved as a batsman in the T20 format © AFP
By Derek Abraham
Not so long time ago, Rohit Sharma was bogged down by inconsistency and lack of confidence. All this changed during the fourth One-Day International (ODI) against England in Chandigarh in January 2013, chasing a 258-run target on a bitingly cold evening he was thrust into the limelight and asked to do something he wasn’t accustomed to. But Rohit did what the ambitious do often. He carved out a beautiful 83 and took India within 100 runs of victory.
And all of a sudden, captain MS Dhoni‘s decision to make an opener out of a middle-order batsman didn’t seem out of place. Not only has Rohit’s utility nearly doubled in the last 14 months, but it has also contributed to the team’s success. Fathom this: Rohit has 3,427 runs in 117 outings. He has tallied 1,980 runs in 81 innings as a middle-order batsman. Ever since that career-changing move, the right-handed batsman has amassed 1,449 runs in 36 appearances.
But over the past few months, Rohit has been revisiting days of underachievement. The runs have dried up: he did nothing of note in the ODI series against the West Indies; he was all at sea in South Africa; the New Zealand sojourn did him no good and he flopped in the Asia Cup 2014 too. His strike-rate too took a hit. Which brings us to the question: Is it time do away with the Rohit as an opener experiment for now? With the ICC World T20 2014 around the corner, it is imperative that he be allowed to bat in the middle order. Ajinkya Rahane should be the man partnering Shikhar Dhawan at the top.
ICC World T20 2014 schedule: Match time table with venue details
The reasons are aplenty. In Twenty20s (T20s) power alone is seen as the byword for aggression. The likes of Rahane, Sanju Samson and Brad Hodge have shown that you can achieve a strike-rate of 135-plus or more with orthodox stroke-play.
Rahane has evolved as one of the most resourceful T20 players in recent times. His record for Rajasthan Royals (RR) — as an opener — speaks for itself. But now that Rohit occupies that slot in Team India, will Rahane fit into the middle order in the presence of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina and Dhoni?
In a talented middle-order, Rahane’s restoration as opener seems inevitable. Perhaps, it is time to shelve the idea that Rohit will be effective only at the top. Versatile Rohit can give the team that much-needed dash in the middle and death overs.
An asking rate of 17-plus is not beyond him. Nothing is. He can win you matches with his wondrous brand of six-hitting. He’s done that for the Mumbai Indians (MI). But do you think it’s unreasonable to expect Rahane to blast a 25-ball 50?
There were enough pointers during India’s last Asia Cup tie against Afghanistan to suggest that Rahane is a sound option to partner Dhawan. Even though that was an inconsequential match, Rahane shaped up well against the Afghan quicks.
Also, India need an in-form batsman to be a guiding hand when Yuvraj and Raina are batting. It would be unfair to expect them to hit top form right away. Comebacks are never easy. And hence, Rohit’s presence in the middle will be invaluable.
Former India batsman Pravin Amre used the word “handy” to describe Rohit and Rahane, two players he has worked with. “The advantage with Rohit and Ajinkya [Rahane] is that they can bat anywhere. Given the competition for each slot, it is important that they be prepared to bat wherever the team wants them to,” he said. Pressed for an answer that could solve India’s peculiar problem of plenty, he put the ball in the team management’s court. “Rahane is a natural opener who bats in the middle order. Rohit is a natural middle-order player who opens. Let them decide,” he said.
Incidentally, both Rohit and Rahane are training under Amre’s watchful eyes in the city. He sure must be preparing them for both roles.
(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)