Version 1.0 — From 2007 to January 2013
Oozing in talent and fluidity at the crease, Rohit Sharma was touted as the future of Indian cricket. The Mumbaikar had such classy shots combined with poise and elegance that even if he had compiled 5,000 runs during this period, it wouldn't do enough justice to his talent.
But all he did was fiddle around in the Indian batting lineup, clueless and grappling for runs. He struggled against the swinging ball and far too often let his mindless stroke play command over his judgement of situations.
Despite all this, the Indian management continued to stick by Rohit due to sheer belief in his doubtless talent. When he put forward that front foot, swivelled across and pulled the ball off his hips, one just knew that he was bound to be a great of the game.
At the same time, while Rohit made his mark in Indian cricket with a matured half-century against the Aussies in a VB series in 2008 batting alongside Sachin Tendulkar, the aggressive and brazen Virat Kohli was unleashing his immature youth upon the opponents in an Under-19 World Cup. Even when he brought home the World Cup, people questioned his temperament and maturity.
But over the next few years, Kohli turned out to be an indispensable part of the Indian ODI team while Rohit despite all his maturity, failed to show consistency, a skill that stands above everything in cricket.
In 87 ODIs during this period, Rohit scored just 2061 runs at an average of 31.22 and a strike rate of 78.33. He hit just two hundreds and 13 half-centuries during this period and was the third slowest Indian to reach 2000 ODI runs.
Version 2.0 — From February 2013 to April 2017
The monster named 'talent' within Rohit eventually started showing its true colours during this period. Indian management's decision to promote him as opener also did him a world of good as the real Rohit Sharma started taking shape in early 2013.
He made two hundreds in the year along with eight half-centuries and even hit a magnificent double-hundred against the Aussies to establish his credentials as a world-class opening batsman. He averaged 52.00 in the year in ODIs. In fact, he has averaged in excess of 50 in every single year since then.
“It is an unrealistic comparison if you compare Rohit now to what he was four years back. It was a bit of a waste of talent," Dhoni had said after Rohit's match-winning hundred at MCG in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final clash against Bangladesh. "He wasn't getting much opportunity to bat as our top order was fixed. After some of his performances in the last few years, we decided to make him the opener and he obliged. He is a natural stroke-maker and once he gets going he scores a lot of runs."
In 66 matches during this period, Rohit made 3070 runs at an average of 52.93, including eight hundreds and a monstrous world record 264. His strike rate rose to 89.08 during this period and his game developed from uncouth to polished. He bid his time in the early overs and then turned into a predator as the match progressed, devouring the opposition with sublime pull shots, pristine lofts and inside-out drives that made you sit up and rewind the video a thousand times.
And then, right at the time Rohit version 2.0 was turning out to be a scary force at the top of the order for India, a major hamstring injury struck. He was down and out for six months with surgery and rehabilitation.
Batsmen returning from such major injuries take their time to return to the kind of fluency and flair of before. But Rohit returned as a newer, scarier version of himself.
Version 3.0 — From May 2017 to now
“Comebacks are not at all easy. After a major surgery, the difficult part is to conquer the inner demons. It’s all in the mind. Only an individual can overcome his fears. My batting may look easy to the eye but trust me, it’s not that easy,” Rohit had revealed in an interview.
However, there is a reason why his batting looks easy to the eye. The runs just keep flowing. Rohit returned from the injury setback with a bang, smashing 91 against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy opener and followed it up with 78 against Sri Lanka at The Oval. An unbeaten hundred against Bangladesh in the semi-finals of the tournament confirmed his comeback in a better avatar.
But the best was yet to come. Three more hundreds were scored in the next four months. His strike rate took a further boost as it soared to 95.44. He hit 29 sixes during this period (in 15 matches). The next best is Hardik Pandya with 24 sixes. But Pandya has less than 500 runs compared to the opener.
Only Kohli has more runs in this period than Rohit with 1012 runs. The languid stroke-maker closely follows the skipper with 902 runs, in five fewer matches, at an average of 69.38.
In fact, he is the third highest run scorer in ODIs behind Kohli and AB de Villiers since 2013 with 4055 runs in 82 matches at 56.31 including 12 hundreds and 22 half-centuries. His six-hitting count of 123 is the best in ODI cricket in this period with De Villiers a distant second at 106. Rohit even has two double centuries during this time frame.
In the fifth and final ODI against Australia at Nagpur, Rohit completed 6000 ODI runs and became the third fastest Indian to this feat. This was some progress for someone who was the third slowest Indian to 2000 runs in ODI cricket.
As an opener, Rohit is the second fastest to 4000 runs behind Hashim Amla. In his last 16 innings, Rohit has a hat-trick of fifty plus scores three times. With his five sixes, Rohit took his tally of sixes against Australia to 58. He hit 14 maximums in the whole series, equal to what he achieved a year back against the same opponents.
This version of Rohit Sharma is the scariest he has ever been. Post the major hamstring injury, he has been an unstoppable juggernaut. His stature as an ODI batsman is growing day by day and it wouldn't be a stretch to call him the most dangerous of batsmen in ODI cricket at the moment given his ability to clear the boundary rope with jaw-dropping frequency.
Stats courtesy: Statsguru of ESPNCricinfo