Mahendra Singh Dhoni likes to keep his secrets. On Wednesday, the eve of the match against South Africa, the Indian skipper said he has been emphasising on the importance of batsmen playing in specialist positions. On Thursday, he dropped M Vijay from the eleven to make way for Rohit Sharma to open the innings.
Sharma is no specialist at the top of the order, and in fact his form in the 50-over format has been questioned regularly over a period of time.
Dhoni though, trusting his own instincts, made Sharma the ‘specialist’ for the day and reposed his faith in the batsman despite the latter’s poor form in the 50-over game, including the two warm-up matches. Sharma returned the favour with a delightful half-century that paved way for India’s eventual 300-plus total.
It’s an obvious conclusion now that he will continue to open along with the in-form Shikhar Dhawan for the rest of the tournament.
The skipper had also spoken about the need to save wickets early on in the innings to have a go at the bowling later on when conditions ease out. Sharma and Dhawan’s century stand was a first for India in this format in close to 25 matches and only the second against South Africa in the last eight years.
That should be music to the ears of Sharma, who has received unflinching support from Dhoni over the years. The Mumbai batsman averaged a mere 12.92 in 14 One-Dayers last year, with just one half-century and still managed to retain his place in the team only because of his captain’s trust in him. With the exception of just one game in Chennai against Pakistan, the remaining 13 were all played overseas, which goes on to show Sharma’s string of poor performances abroad.
Lack of consistency has been Sharma’s biggest bane and a great deal of that has been blamed on the kind of attitude he tends to bring on the field. However, Dhoni certainly doesn’t think the same about the batsman despite his modest career average of 30.82 in 88 ODIs so far.
On Thursday, he proved Dhoni right and came up with his trademark strokeplay that should do his confidence a world of good. The question now is how consistently can Sharma do something similar hereafter.