"If both Dhawan and Rohit are in form, they are easily the toughest opening pair to bowl to in world cricket”
Former Indian opener Kris Srikkanth had commented after India’s ODI series win in South Africa.
The much-raved-about duo has been the two pillars of India's bumper limited-overs run in the past few years, and although a certain Virat Kohli hogs most of the limelight with his breathtaking extended purple patch, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been no less important to India in coloured clothing.
Dig into the best partnerships in ODIs since the beginning of 2014 and you will find that Dhawan and Rohit are India’s best pair and the fifth overall in terms of partnership runs. The duo has made 2,054 runs in 52 ODIs at an average of 39.50 including 13 partnerships of over 50 (six of them converted to 100-run stands).
In the same time frame, in T20Is, Dhawan and Rohit still remain India’s most trusted pair and the second best in the world in terms of partnership runs with 788 runs in 28 matches at 28.14 with four stands of 50 or more.
The last part of the two stats is quite important. Despite racking up enough and more runs as a pair, they haven't really had the kind of big stands that you associate with stunning batting pairs. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, for instance, had the spectacular 331 at Hyderabad, Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar had a long standing opening record of 258, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock stitched an unbeaten 282 at Kimberly last year and even Kohli and Rohit made a superb 230 in Kanpur last year.
Somehow such monstrous stands have gone missing for India’s reliable openers. They have just four stands of 50 or more in T20Is over the past four years which is stunning not only because they have been the second most successful pair in terms of runs but also because the toppers — Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson — share a whopping 10 such partnerships.
Even in ODIs, their highest stand of 174 and 13 50+ associations in the past four years fades in comparison to others in the list of best partnerships. Amla and de Kock (toppers in ODIs in this time frame) share 19 such stands, as do Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor while the Williamson-Guptill pair have 18, all considerably more than that of Dhawan and Rohit.
This virtually leads to a trend where we notice that, though Dhawan and Rohit stitch together wonderful partnerships, it is as individuals they fare better. They have shown a tendency to cover up for each other, which is evident from the splendid equation each of them share with the usual No 3, Kohli.
The Dhawan-Kohli pair averages 76.80 in ODIs in the time frame under discussion while the Sharma-Kohli pair averages 65.17. Even in T20Is, the partnership averages between Kohli and each of these openers is much better than the 28.14 that Rohit and Dhawan boast of in each other's company.
At Colombo, Dhawan covered up for another failure from the Hitman — a trend since the South Africa series — and raced away to a fabulous 90 even as Rohit departed for a four-ball duck.
Dhawan's returns haven't been the best in T20Is as his career average of 26.75 with five half-centuries (including the most recent one at Colombo) proves. But he has been in red-hot form for India in coloured clothes since the Champions Trophy and bulldozed his way through a Lankan bowling attack to top score for India.
Cut down to South Africa and Dhawan was once again in stupendous touch, smacking 323 runs in the ODI leg — second only to Virat — at 64.60 whereas Rohit made a meagre 170 runs, buoyed by one knock of 115.
In the T20Is, Dhawan topped the run charts with 143 runs in three matches at 47.66 whereas the Mumbaikar faltered yet again, flaunting a huge weakness against Junior Dala's incoming deliveries and totalled 32 runs in the three matches.
Check India’s opening stands in the limited-overs leg in South Africa and they read: 33, 26, 0, 20, 48 and 19 in the ODIs and 23, 0 and 14 in the T20Is.
Interestingly, of the nine partnerships, eight were broken when Rohit was dismissed. The only occasion where Dhawan was dismissed before Rohit (at Port Elizabeth in the fifth ODI), the pair made its best opening stand of the series (48, of which Dhawan contributed 34).
It clearly shows how Dhawan has covered up for Rohit’s mishits in recent times with his ‘high risk-good yield’ approach. India have been over-reliant on their top three in the past few years but with no Kohli in the Nidahas Series, the bulk of the workload falls on the opening pair.
Dhawan's Midas touch at the moment could help avert a disastrous start but India would want Rohit to join the party to provide a young middle-order with a compact platform. After all, it is when they click in unison that Rohit and Dhawan form a tough nut to crack for the opposition.