No batter had scored 500 runs in successive World Cups across 13 iterations until Rohit Sharma did so on Sunday in India’s win over the Netherlands.
But what’s been remarkable is the extreme approaches in getting to the mark across these two editions. In the 2019 World Cup in England, Rohit needed 527 balls to reach 500 runs, while in the ongoing tournament in India, he has required just 406 deliveries – none of the 18 other instances have recorded a faster strike rate of 123.15 than Rohit’s – to waltz to the mark.
Four years ago in England, Rohit still scored at a brisk rate of 98.33 as he racked up 648 runs and struck five centuries, but India still fell short in the semifinals. This time, he might not get close to that figure, but his high-risk attacking strategy at the start might prove the difference between India falling short again or lifting the trophy in five day’s time.
Over the tenure of Rohit’s Indian captaincy since he took charge in late 2021, one aspect he has often alluded to has been providing ‘role clarity’ to the players and the Mumbai batter has led by example with his selfless approach at the top of the order. Cut to 2023, and at 36, Rohit is going at a faster rate than he has ever done before. Since 2013, when he was promoted to the opening slot of the ODI side, Rohit’s strike rate of 114.72 this year is his fastest in 11 seasons. His new-found aggression in 2023 has helped India fill a Virender Sehwag-like hole at the top of the order, which has been missing for the better part of 10 years.
His launch pad at the start of the ongoing World Cup has been key to setting the tempo with the bat for his side and subduing the opponents’ attack in the powerplay. Among the openers, who have faced 100 deliveries in the first PowerPlay, Rohit’s strike rate of 129.53 is far higher than the next batter, Mitchell Marsh (Australia), who strikes at 111.94. Rohit’s intent hasn’t also come at the cost of early dismissals -- thrice in nine innings in the PowerPlay.
In swinging conditions in the 2019 World Cup, Rohit saw off the new ball and bided his time before taking on the aggressor role. In the tournament, the onus was on the top three of the Indian batting order to get their eye in and bat deep into the innings. 2019 was Rohit’s most productive year, too, in ODIs with 1490 runs and seven hundreds, but it came at a strike rate of 89.92 – his lowest since 2014. In the 2019 World Cup, his average strike rate in his first 12 balls of an innings was 76.74, while it has jumped up to a whopping 121.73 with a boundary every 4.3 balls in the 2023 edition.
His 2023 ODI approach may not be conducive to scoring the big hundreds and double hundreds as he has often done in the past, but is still effective within the team’s set-up. His combined tally of 183 boundaries (123 fours and 60 sixes) is the most he has accumulated in a calendar year.
In 2023, Rohit has scored at a rate of over 100 in 14 out of 20 innings where he has batted 12 balls or more. In this World Cup, only his knock of 87 off 101 deliveries against England on a slow pitch in Lucknow came at a lower strike rate of 100. Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer’s early dismissals meant the Indian opener had to recalibrate his method, but he still did so by scoring regular boundaries.
Rohit’s new outlook to ODI batting was best underlined by his rapid knock of 40 off 24 balls against South Africa at Eden Gardens. The headlines went to Kohli’s record 49 th ODI hundred, Ravindra Jadeja’s fifer and the Indian pacers running riot. But by the time Rohit was dismissed, India had rocketed to 62 in six overs, and ultimately a PowerPlay score of 91/1, which set South Africa a tall order of clawing itself back into the game on what was a difficult pitch to bat on. Kohli anchored India to a total of 326 before the Proteas were spun out for a paltry 83.
“There have been some games where it could have been tricky for us, but the fact that he’s [Rohit] been able to get us to those kinds of starts has literally cracked open the game. It’s actually made it look easy for us and certainly made it easier for the guys who followed in that (batting) department,” noted head coach Rahul Dravid.