Mumbai Indians did not have an IPL trophy in their cabinet when Rohit Sharma last crossed the 500-run mark in an IPL season. That was in 2013, the season when Ricky Ponting, chosen captain of the franchise, dropped himself and handed over the leadership to Rohit. A decade and five IPL trophies later, here is a look at why it might be time for Rohit to do the same.
The catchwords for the first half of Rohit Sharma’s cricket career used to be ‘potential’ and ‘talent’. Ever since he made himself known in the Mumbai cricket circles as a teenager, tales were told and narratives were built about how there’s a supremely talented youngster coming through the ranks. While he took his time to turn that potential into performances, he has now established himself as an all-time great Indian batter.
While Rohit shedded the ‘talented’ and ‘potential’ tags midway through his international career, the same cannot be said about his decade-and-a-half-long IPL journey. He has not been able to replicate his international success here. With more than 5,700 runs, he is the third-highest run-scorer in the tournament’s history, but those runs have come at a strike rate of 130, and an average of 30.66. Among the six batters who have scored more than five thousand runs in the IPL, Rohit’s average is the worst and strike rate the second worst.
Across the last six seasons, Rohit has scored more than 400 runs only in 2019, averaged below 30 each year, and struck at over 130 runs only in 2018.
It cannot be denied that Rohit Sharma has led the franchise to five IPL trophies, more than any other team, and has played a pivotal role in building the brand that is Mumbai Indians, but how long can they afford to carry him at the top of the order just by the weight of his leadership and brand value?
The same question has been asked of MS Dhoni for the last few years now with respect to the Chennai Super Kings. The difference between Dhoni and Rohit, and CSK and MI though, is that CSK have done the smart thing of constructing their team in a way that has ensured they do not depend as much on Dhoni the cricketer as they used to.
Dhoni has faced 9.53 balls per match on average since IPL 2021. This year, with the Impact Player rule in presence, that number is likely to reduce even more. Rohit, on the other hand, opens the innings. He has faced 19 balls per match since IPL 2021 – twice as much as Dhoni – and most of them inside the powerplay, when teams look to take advantage of the fielding restrictions.
With Ishan Kishan also struggling for form and Cam Green’s deprived of his ideal position at the top of the order, MI cannot afford to continue having an opening partnership that has consistently failed to utilise the powerplay. Kishan’s wicketkeeping provides balance to the starting XI, while Green’s bowling will ensure that he gets quite a few more opportunities to fail before they consider dropping him. That leaves them with two options – of demoting Rohit or dropping him.
Rohit’s best performances in the IPL have come in the middle order, but it is a position that he has abandoned for good. MI are thin on bowling resources and can afford to play an extra all-rounder like Shams Mulani or Ramandeep Singh in the lower middle order. Dropping Rohit and pushing everyone one place up in the order will free up that spot in the middle.
MI have lost only one game in IPL 2023 so far. While this suggestion might seem a bit extreme, they have been poor for more than two seasons now, and the problem has been at the top. The Indian captain across formats dropping himself might not look good, but as with the Ponting one, it is a move that has the potential to change MI’s fortunes for the good.