When the IPL arrives, the faithful in the traditionally cricket-centric city make a beeline for the Wankhede to get the feeling of high-voltage action under the lights. Not long ago the thousands of spectators filled up the stadium to see Sachin Tendulkar in full flow; these days they come to see Rohit Sharma’s delightful stroke play and to lend big support to the Mumbai Indians.
Cut out to excel in the one-day and Twenty20 format of the game, Sharma who brings a touch of elegance to his calling in the middle with bat, once again dished out ample fare on Wednesday night — against the Royal Challengers Bangalore — and led his team to a second important victory that took his side to the top-4 half of the IPL-9 points table. Sharma’s 44-ball 62 with seven boundary shots (4 x 4s, 3 x 6s) won him the second man of the match award in five matches; the first one was against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) against whom he made an unconquered 84.
The runs scored by the opening pair lays the foundation for success in the conventional Test match cricket and even to large extent in the limited over matches; in Twenty20 matches, the openers have a chance to bat right through to play the match-winning roles. As the ongoing league has shown, openers have virtually dominated all the action and this aspect is evident with KKR’s Gautam Gambhir leading with 226 runs and followed by Gujarat Lions Aaron Finch at 191, Delhi Daredevils’ Quinton de Kock at 184, Rising Pune Supergiants’ Faf du Plessis at 170, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s David Warner at 161, RCB’s Virat Kohli at 187, MI’s Rohit Sharma at 165, KKR’s Robin Uthappa at 134, Kings XI Punjab’s Manan Vohra at 129 and Murali Vijay at 122.
The interesting point in these achievements is that the Australian opening Finch had made three half centuries (74 against KXIP, 50 against RPS and 67 not out against MI) while chasing a target and so was the case with Sharma (84 not out and 62 against KKR and RCB), de Kock (108 against RCB) and David Warner (90 not out against MI), Uthappa (53 against KXIP), RPS’s Ajinkya Rahane (66 against MI), Vijay (53 against RPS) and Vohra (51 against RPS).
The trend is more likely to continue as the tournament advances towards the business-end in the last week of May, and refreshingly the MI skipper Sharma too has realised, that for his team’s balance and benefit, he has to open the innings. On the eve of the match against RCB, MI head coach Ricky Ponting was not sure as to where Rohit Sharma would bat after he chose to bat at No.4 against the Sunrisers.
Rohit reverted to the opening slot in order to keep the team philosophy of two overseas seamers (Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan) and two overseas batsmen (Jos Buttler and Kieron Pollard). He had no qualms making a straight Martil Guptill-Pollard swap against RCB. No way was he going to dump Pollard who had played 96 games for MI. Pollard was indisposed against the Sunrisers, Sharma explained.
After the victory against RCB, Sharma said: “I will bat at top of the order for more or less rest of the tournament. At the end of the day, everything boils down to the balance of the squad. Unfortunately we missed Pollard in the last game because of food poisoning, so we had to get someone in. We have seen what Martin Guptill has done over the years and currently he’s great form. We wanted to get him in the squad and see what he can do. The tournament is such that we can play only four overseas players. The team looks more settled now with (Ambati) Rayudu batting at No. 3 and myself at the top. We wanted Pollard to return to form as quickly as possible and today was a perfect day for him.”
The MI skipper has now increased his opening-aggregate to 263 from eight innings and he’s added a third half century in that position, as against 1974 in 70 innings at No. 4. Sharma is India’s Twenty20 opener and he has scored 892 runs with a century and six half century; a good reason why he thinks he should not be waiting for two wickets to fall and that he should take command of his team at the top itself.