India unearthed many superstars in the 2007 T20 World Cup. The likes of Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, and MS Dhoni became the darling of the masses. In the euphoria, as the country was celebrating its second biggest world event victory, a young name from Mumbai didn’t find a lot of mention.
Well, the 20-year old was none other than Rohit Sharma, who made his debut in the tournament. In his maiden T20I innings, Rohit walked in after India had lost three wickets in four balls. A do-or-die game. The South African seamers were on top in helpful conditions. You get the picture, right? It is an overwhelming situation to walk in for a youngster in his T20i career.
Rohit weathered the storm, scoring an unbeaten 50 off 40 balls. It took India to 153. The Men in Blue won comfortably by 37 runs but it was his knock that gave India enough runs to have a crack. Four days later, Rohit’s cameo (30* off 16 balls) was the differentiator in a close final with the margin of victory being only 5 runs.
The value of both these knocks is beyond numbers. But they are somewhat forgotten.
15 years later, Rohit has 401 T20s and 142 T20Is in his CV, both the highest for an Indian cricketer. Alongside Dinesh Karthik, he is one of the only two players in the 2022 T20 World Cup who also featured in the title win in 2007. Only Rohit has featured in each of the eight T20 World Cups for India.
Unlike in 2007, all the limelight will be on Rohit Sharma this year. To begin with, he is the captain of the Indian team now. He is the opening batter as well with the onus to set the tone for the innings. His roles are such, the spotlight will follow him both on and off the field. Every little move of his will be noted. Like Mohammad Hafeez made a wayward assessment about his body language during the Asia Cup.
Like a true leader, Rohit has taken ownership in shifting India’s approach - to prioritizing strike-rate over batting average. In 2022, India have the best powerplay run-rate among Test playing nations - 8.6. Rohit has contributed to that with a strike-rate of 141.7 in the first 10 balls of his innings in 17 T20Is since the 2022 IPL. It is a significant increase from his ‘first 10 balls’ strike-rate of 120.4 in the 18 months between 2021 and IPL 2022.
The number is vital for a few reasons. Firstly, Rohit had a poor IPL, where he didn’t score a fifty across 14 innings. There was some pressure heading into the international season, especially with each match being the build-up to the T20 World Cup.
But the skipper was keen to show his team how he wants them to bat. It is an approach that can take a considerable hit at the average but boosts up the strike-rate - the way T20 is meant to be played. Acknowledging the inflation of average match-winning scores in the format, the change was necessary.
"The Indian cricket team has moved on from its old template, when the openers took their time to set up a platform. That was a template they used when they had Shikhar [Dhawan] and Rohit in good form opening the innings," former India fielding coach R Sridhar told Cricket.com.
"Now things are a little different. Now Indian team's template is go BANG, BANG from the beginning. Having set up that culture, it is only fair that Rohit does it himself too," he explained further echoing the same sentiment.
The upside of this shift - if the captain himself is ready to trade out quantity of runs for impact, then the whole team has to follow. Since IPL 2022, Rohit has averaged 28.3 but those runs have come at a strike-rate of 149.3.
But that doesn’t mean he is a one-trick pony. The Mumbaikar scored a measured 72 off 41 balls against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup when India lost early wickets. He gathered only 10 runs off his first 10 balls. A strike-rate of 175.6 in that innings suggests he still went after the bowlers but the intent took a backseat to address the game awareness.
Fun Stat: In the 32 innings when Rohit has scored 50 or more in T20Is, he has a strike-rate of 117.5 during the first 10 balls
All this makes Rohit a vital cog in India’s World Cup campaign. His experience and his versatility. As captain, he has instilled clarity in the team selection, lending a longer rope to his players rather than any knee-jerk reactions. As a batter, his contribution in the build-up to this World Cup should not be trapped in the mundane consensus of batting averages.
India rely heavily on their batting but this time, the composition is different. The MVPs are in the middle-order - Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya - instead of the usual top-heavy batting structure of India. In most games in the World Cup, Rohit might not be batting beyond the powerplay. But if he consistently provides good starts to the team, the middle-order is packed with enough stars to build further on the foundation laid by their captain.
This could be Rohit’s last World Cup in this format. Overall, it has been a nice progression, from a priceless undervalued contribution in 2007 to leading the team in 2022. A great chance to complete a full circle in his T20 World Cup journey with a second trophy.