By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It required a sparkling hundred and a determined knock to crush the formidable Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in their own den at the Eden Gardens. Rohit Sharma and Herschelle Gibbs’s brilliant partnership ended Kolkata’s seven-game long unbeaten run and has given the patchy Mumbai Indians (MI) a lot of hope at the business end of the tournament. In the context of the entire campaign, the victory against Kolkata is a crucial for Mumbai as it was their first clinical performance after a number of games.
Rohit’s brilliant knock
For a majority of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012, none of the Mumbai batsmen were in the top ten run getters, but Rohit’s magnificent 109 not out put him in the seventh spot in the list. The Eden Gardens pitch isn’t the easiest to bat on, but Rohit looked at ease and was the difference between the two sides. Big players like Gibbs and Kallis got the runs on the board, but they weren’t their usual fluent selves.
Rohit is one of those rare and gifted players who have the extra bit of time in shot selection. While executing a stroke, he seems to be in more control and in a position to change his shot at the last moment. Most impressive was the way he played the fast bowlers. When Brett Lee banged it in short early in the innings, Rohit hooked it with murderous power over the square-leg. Even when Kallis bowled on a length, he was pulled away with disdain.
When compared to other young Indian batsmen, Rohit seems to be more comfortable while dealing with the short deliveries. Rohit has shown the ability to play such strokes even on the faster surfaces.
The latest hundred has brought a lot of laurels for Rohit, but there would be the odd skeptic who would argue that he isn’t as consistent at the highest level. To counter that argument, one must look at his record in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) since the end of the last World Cup. He was the man of the series against the West Indies in the Caribbean and at home during which he displayed his match-winning ability. In Australia, the long lay-off during the Test series broke his rhythm and he couldn’t get going in the ODIs. However, in the Asia Cup he displayed his class again with a crucial fifty in the crunch game against arch rivals Pakistan.
Over the last year, he has been a proven match-winner for both India and Mumbai. Nevertheless it would be a mistake to judge him on the basis of IPL performances alone and his First-Class exploits shouldn’t be ignored. At 25, one may say that it is a wee late for a Test debut going by Indian standards and keeping his fantastic talent in perspective. Rohit is moving into a very crucial phase of his career that would make or break him as a player.
The retirement of Rahul Dravid has left a void in the Indian Test line-up and Rohit would be competing with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary for it. The India A tour to the West Indies is a huge opportunity for Rohit to make a statement and make a move toward a Test cap. The retirements of other seniors such as Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman aren’t far away and as the contest heats up, Rohit has to grab every opportunity and make it count. This is the time he can create a path for a long Test career. Otherwise, he may find himself confined to the fringes.
Have Mumbai found their opener?
Since the 2011 season, Mumbai haven’t had a set opening pair as they have chopped and changed too many personnel at the top. Tendulkar has been the only certainty and the others around him have come and gone. Even when he got injured, Mumbai were not able to find a stable opener who would provide the impetus at the top consistently. Gibbs’ innings gives Mumbai a lot of hope, but it is too early to say that Mumbai have found their opener.
Apart from Tendulkar and Gibbs, the openers used by Mumbai in the 2012 season are as follows: Aiden Blizzard, Richard Levi, Davy Jacobs, Ambati Rayadu, James Franklin, and Tirumalasetti Suman. Levi got off to a fantastic start with a fifty on IPL debut and flattered to deceive since. Franklin was brilliant against Kings XI Punjab in Mumbai and couldn’t perform from thereon. Gibbs has started off like Levi and Franklin and Mumbai would hope that he doesn’t struggle like the latter two. If Gibbs fails in the coming games, Mumbai may drop him going by the pattern this season. However, it would be a huge gamble to drop him considering the stage the competition is in. Mumbai wouldn’t want this instability at the top to continue if they are to make it to the play-offs.
While it is imperative that Gibbs maintains his form, one cannot ignore his classy innings at Kolkata. With Rohit smashing the bowling to all parts of the ground, Gibbs needed to maintain composure and hold one end. His knock may not have been the quickest, but it helped Rohit express himself. He played good cricketing shots and dealt with the spinners smartly.
The sterling partnership laid the foundation of a comprehensive win – a job that the bowlers completed. The bowlers ensured that it wasn’t another heart-stopping finish and that they could ease towards a win without major hiccups. The question is: Are Mumbai peaking at the right time?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)