October 4, 2013

Rohit Sharma's work-in-progress ODI career

While the runs have come in 2013, his strike rate remains among the lowest of all current batsmen, which is surprising for a player of his ball-striking abilities

In this Indian line-up, no player divides opinions as dramatically as Rohit Sharma. Depending on which camp you belong to, he is either India's biggest batting talent since Sachin Tendulkar, or the most over-rated batsman since the beginning of cricket. As in most stories with such extremes, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

With those who favour Rohit, one of the points made in his defence is the manner in which he has been shunted up and down the batting order, seldom batting at the same position for more than a few innings. In 2013, though, that excuse is no longer valid, as Rohit has batted at no other position but the top of the line-up in 16 consecutive ODI innings this year, easily his longest stretch in one position: his previous-best had been ten in a row at No. 5 in 2011, and five in a row at No. 4 in 2012. (Click here for Rohit's innings-by-innings list.)

In these 16 innings as opener in 2013, Rohit has gone past 50 six times, and made two others scores of more than 45, lending credence to the belief that this might perhaps be the best position for him to bat in. Yet, questions remain, because unlike Shikhar Dhawan, his opening partner who has converted three of his six 50-plus scores into hundreds in the same period, Rohit's highest as opener is 83, and his next-best 65. So while Rohit has been doing his bit in getting his team off to good starts, his lack of match-winning scores means he hasn't yet sealed the position for himself, which is a pity given that the opening slot presents the best opportunity for a batsman to make his mark in limited-overs cricket.

As the table below shows, he didn't take his opportunities at No. 3 a few years ago, scoring only 102 in eight innings. His stats as an opener are far better, yet not as convincing as they might have been.

Rohit Sharma at each batting position in ODIs
Position Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Opening 19 609 35.82 67.36 0/ 6
No.3 8 102 12.75 60.71 0/ 0
No.4 26 715 31.08 78.14 2/ 3
No.5 25 862 45.36 82.64 0/ 8
No.6 12 200 28.57 73.80 0/ 1
No.7 7 70 14.00 85.36 0/ 0

The other aspect about Rohit's batting that is perplexing is his strike rate. For a batsman of his ball-striking skills, his scoring rate in ODIs is quite pedestrian - 75.61, in an age when almost all top batsmen score at around 85. Perhaps the role given to him by the team management has been that of the anchor - since there are so many strokeplayers in the side - but then his relatively poor average indicates he hasn't played too many long innings either. The combination of a relatively low average and strike rate, over a fairly extended period of time, is the reason why several critics have been questioning his position in the side for a while. As an opener he has clearly contributed more consistently in 2013, but his strike rate this year has only been 68.63.

Overall in his career, Rohit's strike rate of 75.61 is the fifth-lowest among all batsmen who've scored at least 2000 ODI runs since June 23, 2007, which is when Rohit made his ODI debut. Out of 45 batsmen who make the cut, only Mushfiqur Rahim, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Upul Tharanga and Misbah-ul-Haq have scored their runs at a slower rate. Rohit's strike rate looks even worse when compared to the average scoring rate in the matches he has played in: against an overall strike rate of 82.54, his rate was 75.61, a percentage 91.60. That's the second-lowest among all the batsmen in the list below; the only batsman with a lower percentage is Mushfiqur Rahim - his strike rate is 91.57% of the overall match strike rate in those games, but then Rahim is a part of a weaker side, and he often comes to the crease with Bangladesh in trouble.

All the other batsmen have scored faster than Rohit, relative to the scoring rates in those matches. There have been plenty of remarks about Misbah's strike rates, but even he has scored faster when compared to the match rates. (His strike rate of 74.18 is 97.33% of the match rates, in the games that he has played in.) It's a similar story for the likes of Jonathan Trott, Mohammad Hafeez, Chanderpaul, Tharanga and Younis Khan. Rohit is clearly a more flamboyant strokeplayer than these players - and he scored an unbeaten 51 off 24 balls in the Champions League a couple of days back to further demonstrate his ball-striking skills - but in ODIs, he has generally tended to play within himself, often not backing his talent and range of strokeplay. Obviously, the rate of scoring will also go up once he gets bigger scores more consistently.

Lowest batting strike rates in ODIs since June 23, 2007 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Matches Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Match SR* Ratio
Mushfiqur Rahim 97 2008 25.41 69.77 1/ 9 76.19 0.92
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 51 2005 60.75 72.53 5/ 13 77.53 0.94
Upul Tharanga 113 3399 34.33 74.03 7/ 20 76.94 0.96
Misbah-ul-Haq 116 3667 46.41 74.18 0/ 29 76.21 0.97
Rohit Sharma 102 2558 32.37 75.61 2/ 18 82.54 0.92
Michael Clarke 120 4252 44.75 75.65 6/ 30 79.42 0.95
Hamilton Masakadza 90 2717 30.87 76.53 3/ 15 76.15 1.00
Mohammad Hafeez 82 2659 34.98 76.65 6/ 14 74.98 1.02
Jonathan Trott 68 2819 51.25 77.06 4/ 22 83.14 0.93
Younis Khan 102 3026 32.89 77.54 4/ 22 77.48 1.00
* Overall strike rate in the matches played by that batsman

During the period since Rohit's debut, only eight Indian batsmen have scored 2500 ODI runs; no one else has even touched 1300. Among these eight batsmen, Rohit's average and strike rate are both the lowest: the next-lowest average is Raina's 38.87, while Dhoni's 84.09 is the closest strike rate to Rohit's.

The last two columns of the table below list the dot-ball and boundary percentages, and most of the batsmen below have worked on those two aspects well to achieve good strike rates. Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh have dot-ball percentages of 54, but they both have relatively high boundary percentages to make up for that. Some of the others with lower boundary percentages have lower dot-ball percentages, while Virender Sehwag combines a relatively low dot-ball percentage with a very high boundary ratio to achieve an incredible strike rate of 118.94.

Rohit, on the other hand, has a dot-ball percentage of almost 52, which wouldn't be so bad if his boundary percentage wasn't only 37.61. The combination of the two has resulted in a strike rate of 75, which is clearly below par by today's standards.

The opening position, though, has brought stability to Rohit's place in the Indian line-up. He has made runs too, often important ones, and more consistently than he used to in the past. All but two of his innings as an opener have been outside the subcontinent, in conditions where opening the batting against two new balls haven't been the easiest. In India, conditions are likely to be easier for batting at the start of an innings, with run-scoring getting more difficult against the older ball. That could be a blessing for Rohit, both in terms of lifting his average and strike rate. It would suit the Indian team just fine too.

Indian batsmen who've scored at least 2000 ODI runs since Rohit's debut
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Dot-ball % Boundary %
Virender Sehwag 75 3120 42.73 118.94 7/ 13 47.20 65.96
Suresh Raina 122 3693 38.87 95.79 3/ 26 45.76 46.74
Yuvraj Singh 105 3546 39.40 88.38 6/ 23 54.29 54.71
Sachin Tendulkar 78 3579 48.36 88.37 8/ 19 54.43 54.04
Virat Kohli 108 4575 49.72 86.64 15/ 24 48.67 42.40
Gautam Gambhir 122 4636 41.76 86.12 9/ 32 49.71 43.10
MS Dhoni 134 5070 53.36 84.09 5/ 35 48.91 39.61
Rohit Sharma 97 2558 32.37 75.61 2/ 18 51.91 37.61

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter