Rohit eager to open for rest of IPL
Just over a month ago, Rohit Sharma had scored an unbeaten 98 at Eden Gardens. It was in India's first warm-up match of the World Twenty20, against West Indies. Incidentally, Rohit had made the same score at the same ground in last year's IPL opener against Kolkata Knight Riders, who Mumbai Indians will face on Wednesday evening. Although Rohit had succeeded that day last year, Mumbai had failed. Eventually, they won the IPL with three Mumbai batsmen featuring among the top-10 run-scorers - Lendl Simmons, Rohit and Kieron Pollard.
This IPL season is Pollard's first competitive tournament since his knee surgery last year. In the tournament opener in Mumbai on April 9, Pollard struggled against Rising Pune Supergiants, labouring for eight balls to make just one run.
Simmons, one of the heroes in West Indies' triumph over India in the World T20 semi-finals, is now likely to be rested for the next few matches. He had originally dropped out of the West Indies squad due to a bad back, only to be flown in as a late replacement for the knockout matches.
Ambati Rayudu, Hardik Pandya and England batsman Jos Buttler, playing his maiden IPL, form the Mumbai middle order, but it is difficult to imagine and expect them to play the lead batsman's role in case the top order fails as it did against Supergiants.
That leaves the onus on Rohit, the team's best batsman and captain. T20 history is abundant with examples in which a good beginning often ensures a team defends a big or huge total. Rohit has been opening regularly for India in limited-overs matches since 2013. However, with Mumbai Indians he has not done the same. Last IPL, he opened only twice. This season, though, he has decided to open with a longer stint in mind.
"It's important to get the balance and the position of each player right, where they have batted for their country/state, it's important to keep that going," Rohit said on Tuesday. "For me, I've been opening for a while - three years now - so I'd like to continue that for the remainder of the series. But everything depends on the balance, if I feel me batting top of order is not right for the team, I'll come down as a middle-order batsman. If it helps the team, I'm ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
According to Rohit, the Mumbai batting has depth, including batsmen who are proven matchwinners in international cricket. "We have to share the responsibility. I cannot be just one person winning the tournament," Rohit said. "Last year, we hardly had anyone in the top five in the batting list which shows that everybody contributed and shared the responsibility. You will have individual performances and brilliance at times, but if you want to win the tournament, it has to come from everyone not just one person. In the last three years, we have had so much success because the responsibility was shared. I would expect the same, but as a leader, I would like to step up and perform every game."
Building momentum in the first half, especially in the first few matches, is what Mumbai coach Ricky Ponting has always said is the key to succeed in tournaments like IPL. Last year, Mumbai had a horrid first half. In order to not repeat the mistakes, Rohit and co. will have to play their roles convincingly.
Mumbai have two IPL editions in the last three seasons - 2013 and 2015. And which Mumbai batsman was among the top-10 run-scorers in those two seasons? Rohit would once again like to lead from the front, although in a different role.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo