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Rohit Sharma: The near flawless Mumbai Indians captain who needs to tap into his own batting potential

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Over the last few years, the Rohit Sharma-led Mumbai Indians have become the defining team in the Indian Premier League. Along with Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians score high on pretty much everyone’s list of favourites at the beginning of an IPL season and this year is no exception. The defending champions have found a recipe for success – immaculate leadership, strong core in the squad and a perfect blend of youth and experience.

Deemed to be one of the big boys in the IPL since its inception in 2008, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the most valuable IPL franchise. Big money signings came and went, legends were signed as part of the backroom staff and a plethora of crazy fans started getting restless and with good reason: in the first five years of their existence, Mumbai Indians didn’t even get to sniff the IPL final.

And then it all changed when a young Mumbaikar in Rohit Sharma was given the responsibility to manage the squad. Since 2013, the year Mumbai won the IPL for the first time under Rohit, they have lifted the trophy every alternate year: in 2015, 2017 and 2019. The team, much like Rohit’s international career, took a while to get going, but when it did, it went on to become one of the very best.

Rohit’s record as captain is immaculate – he has won the IPL the most number of times (4). Though Rohit Sharma might not triumph MS Dhoni’s win percentage in the IPL (58.65 as opposed to Dhoni’s 60.11), one can argue he has definitely won more games that have mattered. Take a look at finals for example – Sharma has captained Mumbai in four IPL finals, winning all of them. The former Indian skipper, on the other hand has only managed three wins out of nine finals.

Rohit Sharma at Mumbai Indians

                                                        Rohit Sharma at Mumbai Indians

When it comes to style of captaincy, however, the current Indian vice-captain in limited overs cricket resembles MS in many aspects. Not one to let emotions get the better of him, Rohit is always calm and composed and manages to transmit that to his teammates as well. His teammates and even former ones including legends like Zaheer Khan have spoken extensively about it.

“The best quality of Rohit as captain… well the list is very long. But to me, what really stands out is having that relaxed aura around him. But yet, he’s a very intense and serious thinker of the game. That really shows when he makes those tactical calls on the field, in pressure situations of the match. His teammates also really believe in him. So, I think that quality I will put right up to bring out the best in each and every one of his teammates,” said Zaheer when asked by a fan on Twitter.

Where Dhoni relies a lot on his natural instinct which has worked wonders for so long and continues to do so, Rohit Sharma is a methodical man relying on hard numbers, data, statistics and thorough analyses. Rohit is known for spending a lot of time with the analytics department where he carves out plans for each batsman, gets enough ideas about the field and how his bowlers need to pitch. He has never been one to impose himself on his players, though, which has worked brilliantly in a squad full of heavyweights including Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bumrah and Kieron Pollard who have had the freedom to express themselves.

Rohit Sharma and Mahela Jayawardene at Mumbai Indians

Rohit Sharma and Mahela Jayawardene at Mumbai Indians

“I believe in a theory that when you are captain, you are the least important person. Others become more important in the larger scheme of things. It works differently for different leaders but as far as I am concerned, this theory works for me,” Rohit Sharma recently said.

He also spoke about how the IPL being hosted in UAE could change the plans for the squad. “Your planning changes a lot. Pitches in Dubai are a bit on the slower side. The pitches are not so different from India but yes overhead conditions will be a big factor as you are not always used to playing in 40 degrees which can be a bit of a challenge,” he explained.

While Rohit the captain registers a 10/10 score on his influence and ability to lead the side, it often seems that his captaincy is quite often a bigger priority for him than his own batting. Rohit, the batsman has hardly been his own destructive self in the IPL and though he has an enviable record and great numbers backing his obvious talent, anybody who has watched him in international cricket can tell that he holds back in the IPL.

In 188 IPL matches, Rohit has made 4898 runs and is the third highest scorer in the history of the IPL – behind Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. His IPL average and strike rate reads 31.60 and 130.82. For comparison, his T20I average and strike rate is higher at 32.24 and 138.79. While the difference may not seem to be much, over the course of 16 matches the effect gets pronounced.

Mumbai Indians and Rohit Sharma

Mumbai Indians are the defending champions heading into this IPL and Rohit Sharma will play a key role as leader again

Also the numbers are skewed towards the average which essentially masks the fact that in the last three seasons, Rohit’s batting average has been below 30 and in two of the last three seasons, his strike rate has been below average. He has only scored a single IPL century, his highest score of 109 arrived in the 2012 edition of the season. It reflects rather poorly on someone who holds the record for the most centuries in T20I cricket, especially given the fact that 12 individuals have made more than one IPL century.

In his IPL batting career, Rohit Sharma has crossed the 500-run mark only once, in 2013 when Mumbai Indians first won the IPL and his strike rate has been above 140 only once in the 2015 season. Virat, for comparison has crossed the 500-run mark five times in his IPL career.

Therefore, there’s a lot of truth to the fact that despite scoring plenty of runs, Rohit’s influence as captain has been greater than his influence as a batsman and he hasn’t had a major breakthrough IPL season as a batsman in a while.

Why is this the case? One could argue, it has a lot to deal with the position in which Rohit arrives to the crease. Over the last few seasons, he has arrived at number 3 and even at number 4 for the side. By his own accord, he has admitted that the lack of finishers and stable middle order batsmen makes him sacrifice the opening spot.

“I would love to open, but certain things you got to think from the team’s perspective as well. Being the captain of the team – you have to think about the right balance. Batting at four (or) three gives us the balance we want. Last year we felt that we wanted someone to just bat till the end and it wasn’t happening and we weren’t able to finish (some) games.”

Mumbai Indians Rohit Sharma

Mumbai Indians haven’t rotated their skippers too much and part of this is owing to Rohit Sharma and his success

“This is probably one of the reasons I have to take that decision to come down at three (or) four. I am open to anything. Whatever the team requires. If we see, where I have to go and open, I will go and open also. I am not closing my options. Right now probably three (or) four is the best position,” he had said during IPL 2017.

In the previous season in 2016, where Rohit Sharma opened the innings for Mumbai Indians, the team failed to reach the semi-finals despite Hitman scoring 489 runs from 14 matches at an average of 44.45 and a strike rate of 132.88. It’s clear that Rohit Sharma has prioritised seeing through an innings over individual glory and even the numbers say the same – he’s the third highest scorer in the final over of the IPL, only his teammate Pollard and former captain Dhoni have more runs. Rohit Sharma has made 248 runs from 88 balls and has hit 23 sixes in the death over.

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Going into the 2020 season, that should change however. Kieron Pollard’s presence is invaluable and the Pandya brothers have really come into their own over the last couple of seasons and can be relied upon to finish games. Rohit, if he decides to open the innings, and he should, will form a very solid opening pair with Quinton De Kock. Suryakumar Yadav at number 3 is another safe option to have.

However, the biggest reason why Rohit should open the innings is simply because he’s better as an opener. Staring his career as a middle order batsman, Sharma didn’t really get going until he was transformed into an opener by Dhoni and the Indian Management. Since then, he has been among the best batsmen in the world on an annual basis.

Mumbai Indians Rohit Sharma

IPL 2020 will open with Rohit Sharma and his Mumbai Indians taking on Chennai Super Kings

Rohit Sharma has managed 2313 runs of his 2773 runs as an opener in T20I cricket and all four of his centuries have come when he opened the batting. As an opener, he has seen through matches five times. Rohit is more effective against fast bowlers, and should fancy opening the innings against them. He is also known to take his time to settle and opening the innings will give him more balls to do exactly that.

Last year, when Mumbai Indians won the IPL, five players from the squad had over 400 runs and now is the perfect time for Rohit Sharma to step up his own game. Until now, he has been quite happy to take the charge of the team and manage them to wins, but if he decides to get going with the bat, like how he has done so often in international cricket, be assured that bowling units in the IPL are bound to have many sleepless nights this season.