Mumbai, Rohit Sharma has a problem

May 08, 2023 06:48 PM IST

India’s T20I captain has suffered a severe, prolonged drought of form. He is, on paper, the worst opener in the IPL

Rohit Sharma is an icon. Five Indian Premier League titles, a legendary captain, of the finest all-format players the game of cricket has ever seen. When he retires, he will be remembered with reverence. However, in the last three years, India’s T20I captain has suffered a severe, prolonged drought of form. He is, on paper, the worst opener in the IPL.

Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma walks back after getting out in a match against Chennai Super Kings(IPL Twitter) PREMIUM
Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma walks back after getting out in a match against Chennai Super Kings(IPL Twitter)

Since Mumbai Indians last lifted the IPL, defeating Delhi Capitals in the final of the UAE-based 2020 season, Rohit’s batting record has fallen away remarkably. He has reached 50 in just two innings, going through the entirety of last season without raising the bat.

When opening the batting, he’s averaging 23.13. Of those IPL batters to open at least 15 times in those seasons, the Mumbai skipper’s record is comfortably the worst. His strike rate of 125 offers no salve.

If you compare his record not only to other openers, but to all established batters over the last few years, the conclusion is even more damning.

Batting Impact is a CricViz measure of white ball performance, comparing a player’s record to what we’d expect a typical batter to offer in similar situations; positive is good, negative is bad. In the last three seasons, Rohit’s average Batting Impact is -2.4, the third worst of any batter in the league to play at least 15 knocks. Only Kane Williamson (now without a gig), Washington Sundar (an all-rounder), and Eoin Morgan (now retired) have performed worse by this metric.

So where have the problems been? Well, his Powerplay performances have been just about acceptable, averaging 29 and striking at 127 - the real issue has been when the field goes back. Post-Powerplay over the last three seasons, Rohit has a strike rate of just 117, and a batting average of 15.

Over these three years, according to Batting Impact, Rohit is the worst performing batter after the Powerplay. His game against pace in this phase has completely disintegrated, averaging just 8 and barely scoring above a run a ball, and his record against spin isn’t much better.

As well as scorecard information, CricViz uses collected data to analyse more specific elements of batting, measuring intent, control, and power. Rohit’s Attack Rating and Timing Rating are unsurprisingly among the lowest for any opener in the league, underlining a tentative approach and a lack of execution.

Given the array of talent around him in the Mumbai Indians batting line-up, a more conservative approach is not the worst thing in the world, if it allowed others to play with greater freedom. The caveat would be that his poor Timing Rating, illustrating a lack of control, makes it clear that he has not been able to offer that stability.

To his credit, this season Rohit has tried to remedy that. His attacking shot percentage, 60%, is the highest he’s recorded in any IPL season.

However, it’s that third metric - Power Rating - which offers the most encouragement. Only three regular openers (Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Prithvi Shaw) have been more ‘powerful’ in recent seasons.

It may seem like grasping at straws but that metric does offer hope for Mumbai (and India) supporters. There are still glimpses, in that record, of the best Rohit Sharma can offer: an ability to clear the ropes that has been almost unmatched in Indian cricket. Even during this drought, he has been hitting a six for every two fours, a healthy ratio. There are still physical attributes that few others possess.

Analytically, looking at other formats can be fraught with danger, but there are no signs that Rohit the ODI great is dropping off; since the start of 2022, the only opener to average more than him and score quicker is his teammate Shubman Gill.

The demands of T20 are clearly different, and the margin for error is much smaller. Those performances shouldn’t soften the criticism of Rohit’s T20 drought, but they are a counterweight to simple ideas of him being ‘finished’.

There will be some suggestions that Rohit’s decline is a consequence of taking on the extra pressure of the national captaincy. There may well be some truth in it.

What is undeniable is that currently, Rohit should by no means be nailed on selection to open for India in T20 cricket, and it’s the presence of the captain’s armband that is stifling that debate.

An ODI World Cup may be the immediate concern, but 2024’s T20 equivalent is only 12 months away. If this particular legend is going to continue justifying his place on batting quality alone, then there is a significant need for improvement.

Embracing a role as a more authentic anchoring batter may be a solution, and the easier fit with the captaincy; equally, putting pressure on himself to go harder, earlier, and to see himself as the aggressor in an Indian order filled with solidity, may be the way to go. Perhaps it’s technical, not tactical. Perhaps it’s mental. Either way - something has to give.

- Cricviz

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