Till 2012, Rohit Sharma had opened only three times in one-day internationals, in the away series in South Africa in 2010-11. His returns in that series were meagre - 29 runs off 59 balls
, at an average of 9.66 and a strike rate of 49 - and the experiment was quickly discontinued when Rohit returned to the team after missing the 2011 World Cup. After a wretched 2012 though, Rohit's overall numbers were looking rather shabby - an average of 30.43 at a strike rate of 78, after 81 innings
, with just two hundreds.
Then, at the start of 2013, he got another shot at opening the batting, and that opportunity has completely changed his ODI batting numbers. From a player who was constantly confounding fans and critics with his inconsistency, Rohit has transformed into a remarkably consistent and prolific batsman. During this period, his batting average has almost doubled
, while the strike rate has lifted from 78 to 89. He took 18 innings to score his first century as opener, but since then he has seven hundreds in 40 innings; in his last 20 innings
he has scored five centuries, all in excess of 135, and has averaged almost 70 at a strike rate of 105.
Including those three innings as opener in 2011, Rohit's overall average in this position is 52.28, which makes him one of only two batsmen to average more than 50 as an opener with a cut-off of 50 innings - Hashim Amla is the other, with an average of 53.37. Sachin Tendulkar is third with an average of 48.29, though what makes his numbers even more incredible is the fact that maintained that average over 340 innings
During the early days of this move, there were question marks raised over Rohit's technique and whether he would be the right player to open the innings in overseas conditions: he tended to push or drive at deliveries outside off without moving his feet to cover the ball's movement. While that flaw hasn't been eradicated completely, Rohit is tighter outside off now, and it's also true that most ODI pitches around the world are excellent batting pitches, offering very little lateral movement. Rohit's ability to play attacking shots off the short ball, on the other hand, makes him an excellent candidate to bat at the start of an innings against quick bowlers and the new ball.
His numbers in India
since the start of 2013 are phenomenal - an average of 74.62 at a strike rate of 108 - but away from home too he has made major contributions at the top of the innings. His away average
during this period is an impressive 46.05, up from 27.29 in the period before 2012.
In the last year, he has struck three ODI centuries in Australia
, making him only the second Indian
, after VVS Laxman, to score three ODI hundreds there; Tendulkar only had one in 46 innings. Rohit himself had struggled to score in Australia earlier, making 314 runs in 15 innings
at an average of 26.16. In just eight innings there in the last year, he has handsomely exceeded that tally, scoring 559 at an average of 93 and a strike rate of 97.
Overall, among batsmen who have scored at least 2000 ODI runs since the beginning of 2013, Rohit's average is fifth best
, after AB de Villiers, Kumar Sangakkara, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson. And while his numbers when batting first are obviously impressive - five hundreds in 24 innings
, an average of 65.59 and a strike rate of 95 - he hasn't done badly in chases
either, averaging 47 at a strike rate of 82, with two big centuries.
The aspect that stands out about Rohit's ODI batting recently is his ability to bat on deep into the innings and score big hundreds. The seven hundreds
he has scored since the beginning of 2013 have all been 135-plus scores, which puts him in an elite group of three batsmen who have seven or more 135-plus scores
in ODIs - Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are the others.
His scoring pattern through the 50 overs of an ODI shows how well he has grasped the art of pacing an innings and changing gears. He starts slowly, scoring at a strike rate of less than 67 through the first ten overs, and then gradually picks it up to beyond 80 through the middle overs. There is then a sudden spurt from the 28th over, when he consistently starts scoring at more than a run a ball, as opposed to around five runs per over in the period before that. From the 44th, he goes into overdrive, scoring an average of more than 11 an over in the last seven overs. His strike rate during that period is a mind-boggling 254, which shows clearly that he makes good use of having spent so much time at the crease prior to those final overs.
His dot-ball and boundary percentages also indicate that he understands the need to pace his knock and bat deep into the team's innings, especially since he tends to start slowly and needs to make up for the balls consumed at the beginning. His dot-ball percentage reduces gradually at every stage of his innings, while the boundary percentage is higher at the start - due to the field restrictions - then drops through the middle overs before picking up again towards the end.
Since the beginning of 2013, Rohit's strike rate of 254 in the last seven overs is the best among all batsmen who have scored at least 200 runs during this period of an ODI; next best is de Villiers with a strike rate of 236. They are the only batsmen with a scoring rate of more than 200 in the last seven overs. In the last ten overs, Rohit has a strike rate of 209, which is again the best, with de Villiers next at 201, and Martin Guptill third at 196.
Rohit's ability to change gears after getting his century is also among the best: his cumulative career strike rate after reaching his hundred is 196, third among all batsmen after de Villiers (219), and Shane Watson (204) (since 2002, with a minimum of 100 balls faced after reaching hundreds). Since moving to the top of the order, Rohit has suddenly transformed into a consistent, prolific, and explosive batsman. Now all he needs to do is transform himself similarly in Tests.