Gaurav Sundararaman and Shiva Jayaraman are senior stats analysts at ESPNcricinfo
Gaurav Sundararaman and Shiva Jayaraman
Among 15 batters to have batted at least 30 times in the top three since the 2019 IPL, only two average less than 30. And among those 15 batters, five strike at less than 130 runs per 100 balls. But only one falls in both categories: Rohit Sharma.
Rohit has been way below par in the last few seasons in the IPL. The last time he averaged 30-plus in an IPL season was in 2016. Since then, Rohit has averaged below 30 - in the high twenties - every year. His strike rates in these five seasons have been ordinary too: he has struck at 130-plus only in one of them - in 2018. From the 2019 season, when he began opening for Mumbai Indians regularly, Rohit has averaged 27.9 and struck at 127.7. However, these numbers are not indicative of what he is capable of.
In T20Is since April 2019, Rohit has made 982 runs at an average of 32.73 and strike rate of 144. And he has scored these runs mostly as an opener for India, the same position where he bats for Mumbai in the IPL. In fact, Rohit is currently the second-most prolific opener in T20Is after Martin Guptill. His 25 fifty-plus scores are the highest in the format for any opener; four of those have been hundreds, and no batter has score more hundreds in T20Is. So clearly, opening is something Rohit is used to.
Even so, Rohit has found the same job a lot trickier in the IPL. It could be because he feels the need to take on the role of an anchor with Mumbai. After all, he is the captain and a seasoned player of the franchise. Rohit could well have been talking about himself when he said "we want batters to bat deep" after the loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore.
India's batting line-up doesn't demand that role from him. There has been Virat Kohli to play the anchor. There has been KL Rahul too at times. Rohit is free to play his natural game with India. But perhaps he is not so with Mumbai. Or is he?
Unlike Punjab Kings or Sunrisers Hyderabad, Mumbai have had the luxury of having a strong middle order in the previous seasons. While the likes of Rahul, David Warner and Kane Williamson had to take on the responsibility of playing deep into the innings, Rohit has actually had the opportunity to play freely.
Consider these numbers. Since the 2019 IPL, with Rohit in the middle, his partners have averaged 50.3 runs per dismissal across innings. Now, that is a privilege no other top-order batter has enjoyed in this period: among the 25 batters with at least 20 innings in the top three, none has had their partners average higher than Rohit's.
Rahul, who is often criticised for playing too slowly and costing his team in the end, has seen his partners getting dismissed every 31.4 runs on an average. Williamson has seen a dismissal every 28.8 runs from his partners. Thus, there is clearly a reason for these batters to drop anchor.
As an opener if you are not successful as an anchor in this format, you have to be a dasher. Very few batters in the top teams don't fit either of these roles. Of course, what role a batter plays depends on the composition of his team. Batters like Rahul - with Kings - or Shikhar Dhawan would be examples of the former. Sunil Narine or a Prithvi Shaw for their respective franchises would be examples of the latter.
And then there are exceptions like Buttler, who manage to do both - score fast initially in the powerplay overs and also bat deep enough to lend solidity to the batting order.
The issue with Rohit in the IPL is that he doesn't fit into either of these two moulds. He has been failing at being a useful anchor for Mumbai, while also not getting them off to quick starts. Among the 18 openers who have batted at least 15 times in the IPL since 2019, Rohit's strike rate of 127.7 is ranked 15th.
This has only meant that Rohit has not been able to stamp his authority in the IPL according to his capabilities. ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats looks at how impactful individual performances have been in the IPL with the context of game in the background. In 44 IPL matches since 2019, Rohit's performance with the bat - as given by his Batting Impact score - has been the best for a Mumbai batter in the match on only seven occasions.
But that is a far cry from how often he tops the Batting Impact score for India in T20Is. Since April 2019, he has been the batter with the top Batting Impact score for India 11 times in 31 innings. No other India batter has topped as often as Rohit.
Among the best top-three batters in IPL since 2019, Rohit has finished among the top-three impactful players in a match only 51% of the time. With openers having maximum chance to make an impact, Rohit is ranked ninth among the ten top-order players who have played a minimum of 35 innings at the top. The likes of Rahul, Faf du Plessis and Mayank Agarwal have delivered more impactful performances on a consistent basis than Rohit or Shaw.
Rohit hasn't had to pull his weight as a batter in the previous seasons thanks to his astute leadership and the strong batting line-up that Mumbai have enjoyed. He has been, after all, the most successful IPL captain. However, with the new team after the mega auction this year, Mumbai don't have the luxury of a strong middle order as they have had in the past.
This means Rohit will need to turn up with the bat more often this season onwards. He could do well with some advice from the Rohit Sharma that turns up for India.