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Rohit uses 'perfect platform' to change Mumbai fortunes

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Left-right combination did the trickĀ - Rohit (4:19)

Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma explains how his team was able to post 213 after losing two wickets off the first two balls (4:19)

If Rohit Sharma's decision to bat at No. 4 after Mumbai Indians' first two games was to play the anchor role in the middle order, it seemed to have flopped as soon as their innings started against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Umesh Yadav's two swinging deliveries removed Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan for golden ducks, and the captain was effectively opening the batting again.

Rohit had avoided the temptation to open in the interest of his franchise, even though he had blasted a 35-ball century batting at the top for India a mere four months ago. And mere weeks before the start of the IPL, he scored two consecutive half-centuries as opener and led India to a tri-series title.

Still, he decided to move down two places to add more depth in the Mumbai middle order and set a stage for Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers in the slog overs. And if Rohit had to pick an opposition at Wankhede Stadium to get going and finally register Mumbai's first win, he would have picked Royal Challengers with his eyes shut.

Even before his knock of 94, Rohit's best average against an existing IPL team at Wankhede was against Royal Challengers - 50.50. His strike-rate against them - 144.28 - on this ground was second only to his figures against Kings XI Punjab (145.91). In the last four meetings between Mumbai and Royal Challengers at Wankhede, Rohit ended up the top-scorer three times - in 2014, 2016 and 2017 - batted until the last over twice and won the Man-of-the-Match awards thrice. If the stars had to align for Rohit this season, you didn't have to look for an astrologer to know it would happen on Tuesday night.

A team score of 0 for 2 only meant he had to be cautious for the first few overs but his original plan of consolidating and then unleashing was still on.

"The reason I came down the order was that the few guys who are new, Surya has played before, but Ishan is playing for the franchise for the first time and I want him to go out there and bat freely because he's that kind of a player," Rohit said. "You need to give him that freedom. And Surya as well, we want him to go up the order and bat freely. Myself, Krunal, Hardik, Pollard, we can take the pressure and make sure that the team gets into a good position all the time. Again, it can happen and sometimes it can't. I think this is the ideal combination for us.

"When I went to bat, there was a lot happening on the pitch [and] because it was little on the softer side, shot-making wasn't easy. Obviously, the idea was to build partnerships. If you are looking to post a decent target, partnerships are important and the only talk we had was to make things difficult for their bowlers with the left-right combination that we have by batting as long as possible."

If Rohit takes his time to build innings, he had a partner who goes on the attack from ball one. "With Evin Lewis batting, anything can happen, he's a great striker of the ball, and anything in his area, he is going to smash. That allowed me to take my time which was very, very crucial and we always wanted the set batsman to bat as long as possible and it was the perfect platform for me to do that."

The way Rohit and Lewis (65 off 42) combined as a left-right pair to unsettle the spinners Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal was a spectacle in itself. Virat Kohli bowled Sundar before Chahal, in the fourth over, probably keeping Lewis' record against offspin in mind: strike-rate of 128 compared to his career strike-rate of 146, and 19 dismissals in 51 innings. But Rohit hit a flat first delivery from Sundar through the covers for four before Lewis collected two more boundaries later in the over.

When Chahal was introduced, and Rohit was not great against legspinners last IPL season, he simply kept giving strike to Lewis and the left-hander smashed three sixes in 10 balls. That meant neither of RCB's spinners completed his quota of overs, and they ended with combined figures of 5-0-64-0.

"You have to put pressure on the bowlers whether it's spinners or fast bowlers," Rohit said. "We never had any discussion about which bowler we want to target because we had the left-right combination going all the way through. So, when an offspinner is bowling, right-handers are most likely to take chances and when legspinners are bowling, left-handers will take most of the chances so that happens everywhere. Whoever their strike bowler was, we always had an idea that we want to take the charge and put the pressure on them."

And Rohit did that to play a typical Rohit innings, scoring 40 runs off his first 30 balls, before laying into the quick bowlers in the last six overs of the innings. He faced only four dots in that period and belted four fours and three sixes; his strike-rate shot up from 133 to 181.

With a settled line-up now, Rohit said he will continue to bat in the middle order as it suited his game and would also allow the new top order to "plan accordingly" for the coming games.

"I don't think right now we are looking to change anything. It's important to give the guys comfort because they should know where they are batting for next few games. You can't chop and change so many [times], it's not a good idea and for the team as well. They should know where they are batting and they can plan accordingly. If you're changing too much, it doesn't help anyone. For me it's important to understand that and let that message go across."

And on Tuesday, the message went across to the other team too, not just to his own team-mates.