New Delhi: It is one of the undeniable facts of cricket that opening batsmen set the tone for the rest of the innings. Especially in the shorter formats, numbers one and two in the batting order are the spots where the highest impact players in the team play, since they have the largest opportunity in terms number of balls to get a big score for the team.
In Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, India seem to have unearthed their next gem an opening pair after the amazing success of Sourav Ganguly - Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag - Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag - Gautam Gambhir over the last decade and a half.
The pair opened together for the first time in the first match of the Champions Trophy against South Africa, and promptly put on 127 the first wicket.
From there on, they have had an excellent run England, West Indies and Zimbabwe, culminating in the 176-run opening stand that set the platform for India’s astonishing victory over Australia in Jaipur on Wednesday.
So far, in 15 matches, Sharma and Dhawan have put on 849 runs for the opening wicket at average of 56.60, which is excellent given the alien conditions they have encountered and the new ODI rules that have changed the role of opener.
As opposed to the era revolutionised by Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya and dominated by Sachin Tendulkar, the ODI opener now faces one new ball from either end, and therefore needs to bide his time and see off the shine. If that is achieved, it sets a great platform for the stroke players in the middle order to build on and post or chase down big totals, especially with only four fielders allowed outside the 30-yards circle when the field restrictions aren’t in place.
Sharma has excelled at this role. Cutting down on his array attractive strokes which often got him into trouble, the Mumbai lad now plods along for the team’s cause, but his consistency is off the charts, with an average of 50.86 in 18 matches, which is 16.6 runs per innings higher than his career average.
In Dhawan, he has found an ideal foil. The Delhi opener is someone who possesses a dominating game, as he showed with the fastest debut century in Test cricket against Australia in Mohali earlier this year, and in his second coming as an ODI player, he has already established himself as a consistent run machine.
After a duck on his ODI debut in 2010, he played four matches in the West Indies in 2011 with just one score above 11 — a 51.
But since his comeback to the team with the Champions Trophy, Dhawan has reeled off three centuries and two half-centuries in 16 matches, plus the 95 he scored in Jaipur.
He is not afraid to jump down the track, or play the horizontal bat shot against short-pitched bowling, and makes the bowler lose his rhythm by making a conscious effort to play in the ‘V’ down the ground, and punishing any other loose deliveries.
Like the best opening pair in India’s ODI history — Ganguly and Tendulkar — Sharma and Dhawan also have the advantage of being a right and left-hand combination, which only causes problems for bowlers.
And like Gambhir and Sehwag, they can take turns playing aggressor if the other partner is struggling for timing.
Of course, it is only early days in their partnership, but Sharma and Dhawan have given India a hope of a stable opening combination that could well be the key to success in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Reproduced from Mail Today. Copyright 2013. MTNPL. All rights reserved.