Till last year,Rohit Sharma was Indian crickets most frustrating quandary,an under-performing asset in the middle-order. Its taken only 18 ODIs as an opener,however,for him to produce a coming of age knock,and for now cement himself as a long-term fixture at the top of the order. Rohits opening successan average of 50.86 during this periodshouldnt come as a surprise.
Being a natural stroke-maker,the early fielding restrictions have given him a chance to get his innings going and set his stall out from there. By that argument you could say even Suresh Raina or MS Dhoni could slot themselves as openers. But Rohit got the vote as he has better technique to handle the two new-balls as compared to Dhoni and Raina.
Rohit wont be the first middle-order batsman to experience ODI nirvana as an opening batsman. In fact,the three most successful Indian openers,and the top four globally,were converted ones,each of whose fortunes saw a drastic renaissance following the promotion.
Tendulkar and Ganguly averaged 30.84 and 27.25 respectively before turning openers,and by the end of their careers they averaged in the 40s.
The likes of Sehwag,Jayasuriya and Gilchrist,meanwhile,rose from being lower-order sloggers to polished openers. The averages of Sehwag and Jayasuriya ballooned from 13-odd pre-opening to the mid-30s. Gilchrist finished his career as the most destructive opener in ODI history but struggled before he began partnering Mark Waugh,averaging 27.61 as a lower order batsman.
Speaking of the Waugh,many have likened Rohit to the classy Australian right-hander. But just like the Mumbai captain,Waugh too went through his first 100-odd ODIs as an under-achieving super talent,averaging 33.47 with just four centuries,in the middle order. That is before he was sent in as opener in the build-up to the 1996 World Cup. When he hung up his boots,Waugh had added 10 more stylish centuries to his tally. Sings are,Rohit might be headed that way.
(Bharat is a principal correspondent based in Mumbai)