India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group B, Edgbaston June 15, 2013

Big scores continue to elude Rohit Sharma

Loose shots have contributed to Rohit Sharma's downfall on all three occasions. The sooner he adjusts to his new role as an opener, the greater the chances he will begin converting his starts

Even Rohit Sharma would admit that it is getting embarrassing to be back in the dressing room when he could have been there in the middle converting his starts into big scores. He had started off watchfully three times in the tournament. He converted two of those to half-centuries. Against Pakistan today, he started fluently once again. But just as his innings was about to blossom into another fifty, Rohit got distracted and played a loose stroke. Like the unnecessary pull shot against South Africa. Like the unwanted push against a leg-side delivery against West Indies. And like the unfathomable urge to hit over midwicket today when India were in a commanding position.

Probably the pain of getting a start and then playing an erroneous stroke could be worse than getting a duck. At Sophia Gardens, then at The Oval and then at Edgbaston, Rohit walked back punching his gloves, cringing his eyes, shaking his head, hitting his bat on his pads, pursing his lips. It was clear how much he wanted to be in the center even as he reluctantly departed the field. He has been rightly accused in the past of throwing away his wicket. However, this tournament, Rohit has stayed hungry.

He trained hard in the nets. Even after finishing his regular batting stint he would return later to continue to take throwdowns and be the last to leave. The best music to a batsman's ears comes from middling the ball. From a distance it can seem as if a player is hitting a mallet to stroke his bat. Yet, it is the urge to get the feel that makes the exercise fascinating.

You could see the confidence he derived from those preparations in the crucial partnerships he built with Shikhar Dhawan against South Africa and then West Indies, which were the key legs in the Indian victories. In the first match Morne Morkel tested Rohit with a robust spell of fast bowling, firing in short-pitched deliveries at an aggressive pace.

Rohit looked uncomfortable at times, was even hit on the box once, folded into two on another occasion while trying to fend the white shell that was climbing high and fast towards his head. But Rohit knew the key was to leave the ball. What also helped was an understanding he had with Dhawan as both men showed the keenness to keep rotating the strike.

The time he has to play his shots, the fact that he has all the shots in the book make Rohit a dangerous batsman once he gets his eye in. Over the years in the IPL, he has tended to take pressure positively, understanding when exactly to go for the big one. So even if India were scoring at a slow rate in the initial ten overs, he did not show any desperation. In fact, in the first two matches, Rohit had started slowly compared to Dhawan, yet accelerated effortlessly to reach the half-century mark before his partner. But what he has not been able to do is to get to three figures like Dhawan managed in the first two matches. So why is that?

Not for the lack of courage. Probably it could be to do with his new role. Unlike Dhawan, who has primarily been a specialist opener, Rohit has played in the middle order for both India and Mumbai in first-class cricket. But his superior technique and ability to play the short ball confidently encouraged captain MS Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher to vault him into the opening position. With the Indian middle order looking settled, the challenge for Rohit is to adapt quickly.

Rahul Dravid, the former India captain, who performed in various positions including as an opener in ODIs, reckons Rohit needs to be flexible. "He has all the talent, he has the goods. It is a question of him now converting it and having the hunger and desire when he has in good form to actually stack them up," Dravid said on ESPNcricinfo's The Huddle on Saturday.

For now, Rohit has his captain's confidence and he is bound to get the long rope if he continues to provide confident starts. "That's the only space that we have got, where we all felt that with his talent he can really capitalise and be a good opener," Dhoni said on Friday. However, Rohit knows well that he needs to start making centuries that will finally allow him to enjoy a settled role.

Having played 90 ODIs and leading Mumbai Indians to the IPL title, Rohit, despite his young age (26), has stated assuming more responsibilities. He has seen a contemporary like Virat Kohli grow into one of the most reliable players for India. Rohit is now as close to fulfilling that role. But like his seniors have mentioned, he is the driver of his destiny.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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