Rohit Sharma faces a dilemma every time he wears the Mumbai Indians jersey—open the batting or go down to the middle order.
Sharma has been the designated opener for India over the last few years in limited-overs cricket but it’s a little different in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Mumbai have missed solidity in the middle order, forcing their captain to shift down.
Sharma began last year’s IPL on a blistering note with an unbeaten 98 against Kolkata in the tournament’s first match—in a losing cause, though—as an opener but batted only once more in that position after that. This year, he finds himself in a similar position as he returns to Eden Gardens.
Mumbai go into their second game after managing just 121 for 8 in their first, against Rising Pune Supergiants—a total made possible only because of some late hitting by Harbhajan Singh. Mumbai’s middle order looks strong on paper but have some concerns—Jos Buttler is playing his first IPL season and Kieron Pollard is just returning from an injury-enforced break. Hardik Pandya, too, finds himself in a different batting position—No. 3.
All this adds to the pressure on Sharma, one of the few solid batsmen in a team filled with stroke makers. But Sharma insisted on the eve of the game against Kolkata on Wednesday that he would continued to open for the time being and move down only if the team required him to.
“It’s important to get the balance and the position of each player right,” said Sharma on Tuesday (12 April). “Where they have batted for their country or state, it’s important to keep that going. For me, I’ve been opening for a while—three years now—so I’d like to continue that for the remainder of the series.
“But everything depends on the balance. If I feel me batting top of order is not right for the team, I’ll come down as a middle-order batsman. If it helps the team, I’m ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Sharma conceded that the onus was on him as captain to step up but stressed that he wanted every member of his side to share the responsibility.
“It’s a big responsibility as a captain. As a leader, to lead from the front is important and I have always cherished it,” he said. “It will be no different this year, I’ll try and do the same. We have a great squad and have depth in our batting. Along with me there are a few guys who have played and proved themselves in international cricket. We have to share the responsibility, it cannot be just one person winning the tournament.
“Last year, we hardly had anyone in the top five in the batting list, which shows that everybody contributed and shared the responsibility. You will have individual performances and brilliances at times but if you want to win the tournament, it has to come from everyone not just one person.”
Sharma was also not too perturbed by the fact that Mumbai were habitual slow starters in IPL, explaining that every team took time to identify a winning combination. “People are there to comment, we want to concentrate on our processes and not see what’s happening outside,” he retorted. “People will judge, people will talk because it’s one of the most popular teams in IPL history and we have proved it with our performances. People have the right to talk about it but we don’t want to be slow starters. We want to win as many games as possible in the first half. It was just one bad day (against Pune in the tournament opener). It’s still early days and we don’t want to panic as a team. We want to focus on what lies ahead. Playing KKR on their home ground, it will be a good game; they know their conditions better and play well. We have to combat the challenges and we are up for it.”
Talking about individuals, Sharma called for patience with Pollard and was effusive in praise of Jasprit Bumrah. “He is raring to go,” said Sharma of Pollard. “It’s always tough when you come back from an injury. You want to try and get on to the field and get a feel of it. It’s never going to be easy but he joined the team a week before and is looking good. You can’t judge a player like him after one-off game. He needs to be judged after the first half of the tournament; he’s putting in a lot of effort into the practice and training sessions. He’s absolutely fit, he wants to go out and express himself. He couldn’t do that last game but a player like him can’t be written off after one game. He is a match winner for us and it will be no different this year.
“Bumrah has evolved as a cricketer in the last couple of months. He bowled well in Australia and then carried it into the Asia Cup and World T20. He is more matured now, knows what’s expected and is stronger and much fitter than what he was last year. There’s a lot of expectation from him but as a group, we don’t want to put too much pressure. He’s also trying to become a better cricketer and he’s doing everything he could.”
KKR’s Brad Hogg regrets retiring in 2008
“Having the passion of wanting to play. I retired in 2008 and to be able to have the opportunity to be able to come back and do what you love, I don’t take it for granted. I still love it and have the passion of the five-year-old kid that first had the dream of playing for Australia. The game’s changed and evolved and T20 competitions have given a new lease of life to cricket. It’s given a new lease of life to me. It’s just having that passion. I do regret retiring in 2008. I had the Test spot for Australia at that stage, but I had some personal issues with family. I retired then and I wish I didn’t because the marriage didn’t survive. Luckily it didn’t because I met a new partner and she is one who supports me. It’s good to be playing the game with someone who’s pushing you as far as you want. There’s talk about when I’m going to stop and she just says play as long as you possibly can. We’re going to try and get to when I’m 50!”
Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.