In the run up to the World Cup, most of the focus had been on the “unsettled” No 4 batsman. Even as K L Rahul seemingly solved the issue with a sparkling century against Bangladesh in the warm-up match at Cardiff, the Indian openers’ struggles have gone almost unnoticed.
While the situation isn’t alarming insofar as the form of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan is concerned, their poor patch in the IPL and in the two warm-up matches is a cause of some concern. As India take on South Africa in their opener on Wednesday, a good five days into the event, they would have liked their openers to be amongst runs especially given the unpredictability of the conditions.
Like a typical English summer, Southampton has been alternating between blazing sun and biting cold interspersed with sharp showers and this weather pattern will have a big say in the playing conditions as well. While South Africa have endured a poor start to the tournament losing both their matches, their pace attack can still inflict major damage on the famed Indian batting if conditions favour them.
No doubt, Rohit and Dhawan have been two of India’s finest performers in ODIs in the last two-three years. Barring an irrepressible Virat Kohli, no Indian batsman has come close to their feats. With a great understanding of each other and an ability to quickly size up playing conditions, the two have managed to stack up big partnerships that have laid the foundation to many an Indian victory.
While they take great pride in their individual achievements, neither of them is greedy to steal the spotlight from the other. And that’s been the secret of their successful union. The duo has reeled off 15 hundred-run stands and 13 fifties and are the second best (4541 runs in 101 innings) from India behind Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly who are at the top of the tree for most runs by openers (6609 in 136 innings) in the world.
They are unstoppable in conditions that bear resemblance to those prevalent in the sub-continent but if the ball jags around a bit, either in the air or off the pitch, then they struggle a bit. Not for the first time in their otherwise distinguished careers, their well-founded frailties against the moving ball were exposed thoroughly in the first warm-up match versus New Zealand. And that should keep the Indian team management on their toes.
Both Rohit and Dhawan would have been relieved to see the pitch that appeared shorn of much grass two days before the match here at the Rose Bowl but in England, overhead surroundings play as much a crucial role as underfoot conditions. Kohli, before leaving for England, alluded to this fact.
“Our mantra will be to be flexible according to the conditions,” the Indian skipper had emphasised. “Because (England) it is one country where pitches might be flat but if the overhead conditions change then you got to be up to it. Any other country, the overhead conditions don’t matter that much but in England they do, and it differs from venue to venue. In London, it might not make much of a difference but if you go up north, then it does get overcast then you will see things happening, so you have to be ready for that and be prepared to be flexible,” he reasoned.
Falling in the southern coast, Southampton experiences milder weather comparatively, but Rohit and Dhawan’s prolonged lull stretching from IPL has put the focus back on them. While Dhawan enjoyed an overall good season with Delhi Capitals, he fizzled out towards the end and his last six innings, including the two in warm-ups, are a discouraging 19, 16, 17, 18, 2, 1. Rohit too doesn’t inspire much confidence with scores of 4, 55*, 4, 15, 2, 19 in his last six innings.
That said, Rohit and Dhawan have the skill sets, experience and game sense to succeed in hostile conditions and for that, as Kohli stresses, they should be willing to be flexible -- swallow their ego, bide their time and go for the kill.