“And in the last year we have just played T20 cricket. And no one is batting better than Suryakumar Yadav who has also hit two (T20I) centuries, I don’t think anyone else has scored a century. In Test cricket, I have played just two matches against Sri Lanka. Otherwise, I was injured in between. Please check all these things before you ask me.”
Sharma is one of those rare cricketers who usually laughs off criticism aimed at him. This was different. Of all the formats, Sharma has literally owned the 50-over version. He has three double hundreds, a scintillating World Cup record (1,019 runs at an average of 65.2 and a strike rate of 95.97 with six hundreds and three fifties) and is one of the finest openers of the game.
But he isn’t sitting on his laurels. Even as the discussion rages on whether India should move on to younger, fitter openers, Sharma has been quietly giving his batting approach a much-needed makeover that has resulted in an impressive string of scores since the T20 World Cup semi-final exit—27, 51*, 83, 17, 42, 34, 51 and 101.
But when the statistics are narrowed down to about merely scoring or not scoring a hundred, it becomes grossly unfair to the work Sharma has put into his batting, walking the talk that India need to be more aggressive at the top. “I have played only 12 ODIs in three years,” he said. “Three years sounds a lot, but in those three years I have played only 12 or 13 (17 actually) ODIs, if I am not wrong.”
T20 maybe a different ball-game, but the management has made it clear that Sharma will continue to lead and open in the ODIs. “You look at a lot of kids who look different at 19, but not all of them go onto actually achieve their potential,” said India chief coach Rahul Dravid before the last ODI when asked about having watched Sharma open for a decade now.
“What Rohit has done over the last 15 years (made his ODI debut in 2007) now has actually changed his potential and he’s been a great servant for Indian cricket and done really well. Maybe the turning point was when ten years ago he got the opportunity to finally open. His hallmark has been his performances in ICC tournaments, like in 2019 (4 tons in the ODI World Cup), but also his ability to score big runs when he gets going. Someone who has got three double-hundreds in this format, (it) is an absolutely phenomenal achievement.
“So, yeah, he has been pretty successful. 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, that you know when he’s playing well you can keep him quiet, right? 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. He has been a fantastic player for India and 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 does.”
It’s perhaps a coincidence that Sharma hit a hundred just after Dravid praised him. But this has been a long time coming. At the core of this tweak in batting is the urgency shown in the powerplay, with Sharma going down the pitch more often, sweeping, reverse-sweeping and playing the late cuts more regularly. Sharma hasn’t held back once set, and that was evident in how he was competing with fellow centurion Shubman Gill in Indore. It has had a huge impact on Sharma’s strike rate as well. Among batters to have opened in at least 20 innings since the 2019 World Cup final, Sharma has the fourth highest strike rate—98.62, behind Jonny Bairstow (104.31), Quinton de Kock (100.65) and Jason Roy (98.86). Not only is he scoring more in the opening overs, Sharma’s aggression has helped his partners settle down faster. That is always great news for India in a World Cup year.