London: Rohit Sharma is not accustomed to being in the background. When he's good, it's as good as it gets. When he's bad, no one looks worse. It's almost an occupational hazard for any languid, free-flowing, stroke player.
When he gets runs, the manner forces people to use, overuse even, words like natural and talent. When he fails, the indolent tag gets attached just as easily. The point is you either love him or hate, but you don't ignore him.
The past month, has been unusual, in that regard. He led the Mumbai Indians to the T20 title this season, he was their leading scorer, and finally showed responsibility. However, with all eyes on the spot-fixing saga and its fallout, Mumbai's title romp eventually became just a footnote.
The ICC Champions Trophy has been pretty much similar. He got fifties in both the matches, but with new opening partner Shikhar Dhawan getting two hundreds, it was again not the main talking point. Maybe that's the way it should be, maybe that's the way he likes it.
After every hundred he's hailed as the saviour of Indian cricket and after every failure he's castigated as a slothful, wasteful talent not willing to take responsibility. That's so far been the tale for Rohit, who turned 26 a couple of months back. It's always been a case of one step forward, two steps back.
After 90 ODIs, he averages just 31.62, a figure that indicates that he often flatters to deceive. In between, he's had spells of prolonged consistency. From the start of 2010 to the end of 2011, he averaged 46.45, hitting 2 hundreds and 7 fifties in the period. He followed that up with possibly his most abysmal year. In 2012 he looked jaded from warming the benches and an unsure spot in the batting order. In 14 matches last year he averaged 12.51.
Things finally looked up for him when MS Dhoni tried him out as an opener. Against England earlier this year, Rohit made the move up the order. In his first match itself he repaid the captain's faith, striking a polished 83. The next match? You guessed it; he got out on single digits.
In the warm-up matches, Dhoni opted for Murali Vijay to partner Shikhar. After two failures though, he turned to Rohit.
Though not a natural opener, Rohit's solid technique means he's well equipped to face the new ball, even in testing conditions. In both the matches, he played with soft hands and was watchful at the start, all the while not compromising his shot-making, going after the bowlers anytime they erred in line or length.
His chemistry with partner Shikhar was another heartening feature, from stealing quick singles to taking turns in going after the bowlers, they've shown a great understanding in the two matches they've played together.
The Delhi southpaw was impressed with his new opening partner. With two 100-run opening stands there's no reason why he shouldn't be. "It was really nice playing with Rohit. I'm playing for the first time with him as an opener, and it was really good. Running between the wickets was really good, and our understanding was also good. And Rohit played some brilliant shots," said Shikhar.
Hopefully, Rohit's turned over a new leaf. Going by the past, however, just hold on to that thought.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.