Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Rohit Sharma has scored more powerplay runs, quicker, at a higher average, hitting more fours and more sixes than anyone at this World Cup. It is a staggering statistic. For a batter who built his game on watchful starts. For a team that is built on conservative starts and big runs from star batters. For a captain to take that high-risk role on and not delegate it to a younger batter.
At least for the last ten years, India have consistently been among the best two or three sides in limited-overs cricket. However, that has been down to the sheer quality of players. Nobody can accuse them of being the most modern or tactically the sharpest side despite always having been among the best.
Ever since Rohit has taken over the reins, though, he and coach Rahul Dravid have looked to push themselves out of their comfort zones. One of the areas India could push themselves in was putting a slightly lesser price on their wickets in the early and middle overs and being more enterprising. Rohit knew he had to lead by example if he wanted other batters to follow suit.
Rohit has been trying to hit a boundary to 30% of the balls inside the powerplay. Only Travis Head has been more enterprising, but not with as much success. Rohit has been in control of 77% of those boundary attempts, which is incredible efficiency. As a result, India are behind only Australia in scoring quickly in the powerplay. Australia have played more higher-scoring games than India, and both their openers are going for it as opposed to one for India.
While India have generally been looking to be proactive in the powerplay, the extent Rohit has taken it to has perhaps surprised even the management. "It is his idea, he is taking the initiative," the batting coach Vikram Rathour said. "There are no set strategies at a World Cup. We are looking to maximise, looking to score as many runs as we can. And if the surface is good, and if he feels he can go for it, he does."
It has perhaps helped that the ball has not swung much when India have batted. Possibly the plan was to watch a couple of overs with each ball and then cash in on the second half of the powerplay. It seems Rohit has seen the lack of swing, and started going much earlier.
The pressure it has put the opposition bowlers under was apparent in how many unforced errors South Africa made with the new ball in what was being seen as the final before the final. It was a tricky pitch on which the spinners were not going to be easy to face. The headstart that Rohit gave India allowed Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer to take their time and take no risks against the dangerous Keshav Maharaj. That is a luxury India need with Nos. 8 to 11 not offering much with the bat.
Not that Kohli can't deal with the demand of scoring quicker than his team-mates, but these starts from Rohit take away the pressure of scoring quickly. And when Kohli needs to score at only five an over, he is pretty much invincible. He is able to make sure he bats deep into the innings so that India don't miss the batting depth.
Vikram Rathour on Rohit Sharma: "He is playing the way he wants the team to play"•ICC via Getty Images
In a tournament where chasing has not been easy, Rohit's starts have made sure there is no jeopardy as the chase enters the middle overs. The presence of Kohli perhaps gives him the confidence to play the high-risk game as was seen in the first match against Australia.
Rathour was asked if the coaches asked Rohit to bat that way. "He feels he is batting well, and if he feels the wicket is good and he can go for his shots, he is going for them," Rathour said. "That has been working out really well for the team."
The most impressive aspect of the way Rohit has been batting is that it didn't come off at first. Now, batters are known to be extremely particular with what brings them success. It would have been easy for Rohit to say he gave it a shot, but it didn't work out, and it is best for him and the team that he goes back to his tried and trusted methods. Rohit, though, kept at it.
"It takes a lot of conviction," Rathour said. "That is why he is a great batsman. He always has the conviction. He is one guy who is leading with his actions. He is playing himself the way he wants the team to play."
There is no guarantee India will finally take those final two steps after dominating the league stage once again, but for once, thanks to almost revolutionary batting from Rohit, you can't accuse them of not being with the times.