India vs England: Rohit Sharma’s love affair with English soil augurs well for India’s chances in 2019 World Cup

Out of the 13 ODIs Rohit Sharma has played in England, he has crossed fifty on seven occasions and converted two of them into hundreds while averaging 67.

Rohit Sharma’s ODI career was once a tale of overpromising and underdelivering. Till 2012, the Mumbai batsman had spent six years at the highest level. He was always easy on the eye and played every stroke in the book with aplomb. Rohit impressed fans and critics alike; the most prominent among them was Ian Chappell who tipped him for a bright future after his mature knocks against Australia in the 2008 VB series. Chappell even believed Rohit should be preferred over Virat Kohli for a Test match berth. Despite the promise, the numbers simply didn’t add up.

In the first six years of his international career, Rohit had played 86 matches with an average of 30 with just two hundreds to his name. Out of these, he had opened in three games and failed in all. In 2013, after Tendulkar’s retirement and dipping form of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni was forced to find a new opener. The man he trusted for the role against England during the ODI series at home had scored 4, 4, 4, 0, 0, 5 in his last six outings. But Dhoni had complete faith in Rohit’s “talent”, a word the Mumbai batsman will come to hate in years to come.

Rohit answered Dhoni’s call with scores of 83 and 4 in two ODIs against England at home, and that gave Dhoni enough confidence to throw Rohit under fire at the opening slot for the Champions Trophy in England. Sceptics were unsure about Rohit’s technique as an opener for English conditions where the ball may dart around early. But together with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit gave India solid starts in almost every game of the tournament, and their opening partnership proved to the most crucial factor in India’s eventual title win. Since 2013, Rohit has never batted at any position other than one or two for India in ODIs and T20s.

During this period his ODI average is an imposing 57 with 16 hundreds, three of them being double hundreds, making him one of the most destructive ODI openers in the world. For Mumbai Indians, he prefers batting in the middle order at times, and that has forced some critics to ponder over the possibility of him doing the same while wearing national colours but Rohit belongs at the top of the order where he can single-handedly set games for his team.

As Rohit comes back to England this year, he comes to the land of his cricketing revival. To give him a red carpet welcome, England has laid some of the flattest featherbeds to bat on, and with the sun shining brightly Rohit doesn’t need a second invitation to make hay. Rohit was coming into the ODI series full of confidence and form with a T20 hundred under his belt. England had set a below-par total for India to chase allowing Rohit to take his time at the start of his inning.

When Rohit gets that opportunity to settle in, he invariably makes it count. He allowed Shikhar Dhawan to be the early aggressor. When his opening partner returned to the dressing room, the 31-year-old took charge and unleashed his exhibition of strokes. On a pitch with even bounce and no lateral movement, Rohit was happy to play on the up. His forcing shots off the backfoot and his cover drives were a treat to watch. Once he crossed thirty on this pitch, a hundred seemed almost inevitable. Rohit was there right till the end to hand England a thumping loss in the first ODI.

The nature of the loss may have a demoralising effect on Eoin Morgan’s team who have plenty of questions facing them in their bowling and handling of India’s spinners. After Thursday’s knock, Rohit’s stats in England make for ominous reading for the hosts. Out of the 13 ODIs he has played in this country, he has crossed fifty on seven occasions and converted two of them into hundreds while averaging 67. With their team heavily dependent on batting, England lays down some of the flattest wickets in the world now for ODI cricket.

With a lot of international cricket being played in late summer, bowlers hardly have any overhead conditions to exploit either. The white Kookaburra ball that is used these days hardly offers any swing. With conditions stacked so heavily in batsmen’s favour, England have become the home of towering ODI scores. With three ODI double hundreds to his name, there is no second guessing Rohit Sharma as the undisputed king of ultra high scores. Rohit has the temperament, stamina and appetite to bat big in ODIs. On a good batting wicket, he always sets himself up to play the long innings.

He is prepared to play the odd quiet overs because he knows he can always compensate if he stays in. Even in his most attacking moods, there is a sense of serenity about Rohit’s free-flowing blade clearing the boundaries across all corners of the ground with consummate ease. With the world cup less than a year away, Rohit’s liking for English conditions augers well for India’s chances in cricket’s biggest competition. Rohit might have his off days here and there, but on his day he can destroy attacks at will.

His measured approach in ODIs makes him more reliable compared to some of the more swashbuckling openers around the world and one of the most feared batsmen for opposition captains.