As Virat Kohli shrugged off and then laughed in disbelief at a journalist’s question over whether to drop Rohit Sharma for Ishan Kishan in the India XI after the defeat against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, a few were left wondering what was so wrong with that line of questioning.
Rohit Sharma has been the face of Mumbai Indians’ successes in the last few years of the IPL, with the team winning five titles under his leadership. However, his below-par batting returns in the most recent tournament have not gone unnoticed, with debates rife over his retention ahead of the mega-auction. Initially, a white-ball giant, Rohit has impressed in the longer formats as well this year to emerge as an all-format beast in international cricket, but a deeper look reveals how his T20I credentials could be on the wane.
Rohit has 2,864 runs and four hundreds in 112 matches at an average of 32.17 with a strike rate of nearing 139 in his career; these are excellent numbers. Since the beginning of 2019, Rohit has scored 627 runs at a strike rate of 141.53 with the help of seven fifties — figures that are far away from suggesting that he isn’t in form — but his biggest ‘problem’ has always remained his relatively slow rate in the powerplay. Five of those seven fifties have been scored at a rate of over 145, with three coming at a strike rate in excess of 180. However, the troubles mount whenever he doesn’t get a big score.
Since 2019, Rohit has failed to get a score of 25 on 14 occasions, with his strike rate dropping to 91.36 in all innings when he has had 25 runs 0r fewer. Seven times he has batted with a strike rate of less than 100 (excluding when he has made zero), which means that when he is dismissed for a low score, the team is often on the back foot with regards to the tempo of the innings.
His struggles against spin in the powerplay overs are well documented as well: since 2019, he strikes at only 128.88 against the slower bowlers in the powerplay, which drops to 119.67 against left-arm quicks in the same phase. His weakness against them came to the fore again in the clash against Pakistan, where Shaheen Afridi beat the India opener with pace as Rohit ended up getting lbw for a golden duck.
With Virat Kohli’s batting also following a similar template of anchoring before he gets set, the top-order is often guilty of slowing down the momentum of the innings, which puts undue pressure on the batters to follow.
But what works for Kohli is his superb record in the T20 World Cup, an event where Rohit has been found wanting. The India skipper has 10 fifties in the tournament and has scored the last six half-centuries that have been made by a batter from the team. Rohit, the only player in the current side to have played the 2007 T20 World Cup, on the other hand, just has two fifties in the last three editions, with both coming way back in 2014. His last nine innings in the T20 World Cup read: 5, 24, 29, 5, 10, 18, 12, 43, 0 at a strike rate of 116.80. This ODI World Cup behemoth has been short on runs in its T20 counterpart.
Only one player has raised his bat the last six times an Indian scored a fifty in the T20 World.🙌
72* v SA, 2014 by Virat Kohli
77 v SL, 2014 by Virat Kohli
55* v PAK, 2016 by Virat Kohli
82* v AUS, 2016 by Virat Kohli
89* v WI, 2016 by Virat Kohli
57 v PAK, 2021 by Virat Kohli pic.twitter.com/Vv6Wwam2Sq
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) October 26, 2021
With a number of talented openers springing up in the IPL of late, with names including but not limited to Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Venkatesh Iyer, and Prithvi Shaw, the heat is well and truly piling on Rohit. A front-runner to take on the T20I captaincy from Kohli following the latter’s departure after the ongoing event, Rohit’s recent numbers do not make a strong case for him.
With age not on his side either, the presence of younger legs around further increases the pressure on the Mumbai cricketer, and unless he can silence his critics with a stunning T20 World Cup, it should not come as a surprise if more journalists question his spot in the team. Kohli could remain bemused, but the doubts will not be without reason.