India vs Afghanistan, Southampton
22 June, World Cup 2019
Mujeeb-ur-Rahman takes the new ball for Afghanistan against India’s openers and after five uneventful deliveries, the sixth one turns away from Rohit Sharma, takes the splice of the bat and runs off to the off-side. Afghanistan aren’t too excited but an 18-year old Mujeeb smells an opening.
In his next over, Mujeeb bowls five off-breaks to Rohit. Five dots. All turning into the Indian opener, who is in no hurry to get off the mark. The first ball of Mujeeb’s next over is a carrom ball. Rohit, perhaps blinded by those five off-breaks, pushes his bat out to defend, but the ball turns away and beats the edge to hit off-stump.
India's tour of Sri Lanka
Akila Dananjaya runs through India’s batting line-up in the second ODI at Kandy and KL Rahul, coming in at No 3, plays all around a googly to be cleaned up for four. Five other Indian batsmen fall to Dananjaya that day.
Next ODI, only two Indians fall to the mystery spinner. One of them is inevitably Rahul. In the fourth ODI at Colombo, one batsman falls to Dananjaya — yes, Rahul. Yes, the googly again.
Two incidents, with a considerable amount of time separating them, might hold important pointers for England as they take on India at Edgbaston in a massive World Cup game for them. From the verge of qualifying to the semi-finals, England have managed to mess up their campaign and anything less than a win against India will see them waiting for other results to determine their fate even if they do win against New Zealand in their final league fixture.
Beating India will need silencing a giant like Rohit Sharma at the top of the order. The Mumbaikar has been in pretty good touch this World Cup and of late, is unstoppable after he spends time at the crease. To put this into perspective, Rohit scores 50 or more 59.25 percent times once he crosses 10 runs in ODIs since 2018. 50 percent of those scores are converted into hundreds.
India have made two 300-plus scores batting first this World Cup and in both those matches, Rohit made fifty or more. When he failed — against Afghanistan and West Indies — India made 224 and 268. They managed to win those matches courtesy a potent bowling attack but it’s safe to say that the batting wasn’t exactly convincing.
The bottom line is vivid and ominous — get Rohit early or suffer.
To dismiss him with the new ball, England would probably need to shed their conservatism and go the ‘Faf’ way. The South African skipper sprung a massive surprise in the tournament opener when he used Imran Tahir with the new ball and found success in the first over. He replicated the move against India in the match at Southampton but Rohit faced just one of those six balls and the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan countered Tahir’s leg-breaks, coming into him, fairly easily.
However, with Rahul joining Rohit at the top post-Dhawan’s injury, the case for a leg-spinner upfront against India intensifies.
England have a leg-spinner in their ranks in Adil Rashid and India’s openers — not just Rohit Sharma — have a documented weakness against leg-spinners bowling googlies and off-spinners turning the ball away.
In short, they struggle to read the wrong 'un. Rashid’s googlies are also particularly effective in ODIs. CricViz points out that Rashid’s average with the wrong 'un in this format is nearly half that of his average with leg-breaks.
Rohit’s 30 dismissals to spinners in ODIs include nine dismissals against leg-spinners and eight dismissals to mystery spinners capable of turning the ball both ways — Dananjaya, Saeed Ajmal, Sunil Narine, Mujeeb and Ajanta Mendis.
Since IPL 2017, Rohit has been dismissed by leg-spinners ten times in the IPL. In the T20I series in Australia and New Zealand a few months back, Adam Zampa and Ish Sodhi got the better of him once each. In the home ODIs against the Aussies just before the World Cup, Zampa toyed with him in Delhi. Rohit miscued quite a few balls against the leg-spinner, clearly struggling to read him, and eventually played an ugly hoick to be out stumped.
Unlike when du Plessis tried Tahir for an over against India in the powerplay, England will not have to worry about a left-hander smothering Rashid’s leg breaks. Rohit’s partner at the top — KL Rahul — has as much of weakness against leg-spin as the Mumbai Indians skipper. Five of Rahul’s six dismissals to spin in ODIs have come against spinners capable of turning the ball both ways.
In IPL 2018, where he was in blistering touch, Rahul was dismissed five times to such spinners. His average in that season when facing spinners was 34.29 as against 83.8 when playing the pacers. Leg-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Sandeep Lamichhane found success against him early in the innings in IPL 2019.
Once Rohit or Rahul settles down, they can torment England. The hosts have used Jofra Archer in tandem with Chris Woakes in the opening powerplay. While Woakes, who swings the new ball, is a good bet against both openers, Archer tends to bowl a back of a length channel that works to Rohit’s advantage. Archer had erred with his length — tending towards the shorter side — against Australia and David Warner and Aaron Finch capitalised on it to hurt England.
Rohit might well do the same given how brutal he has been against short-pitched bowling with the new ball. He has used the attacking option against short balls tried early in the innings in this World Cup.
Against South Africa, he rocked back to pull Rabada’s short ball for six in the opening powerplay.
Against Australia, Nathan Coulter-Nile’s short ball was also dispatched with conviction into the stands.
Against Pakistan, Hasan Ali repeated the error and Rohit blasted him with a pull for six in the sixth over.
The evidence is palpable. Bowl short and even if there’s pace on the ball, Rohit will take you on.
England’s best bet against India’s openers is to force them into tentativeness early on. A good leg-spinner, armed with a googly, does just that. It puts the Indian openers in two minds. With Woakes swinging the ball upfront and Rashid turning the ball both ways, Rohit and Rahul can be choked from both ends.
Drying up runs against India won’t work. They sit back, resist, take the sheen off the new ball and then attack. Quite a few teams this World Cup have made the mistake of being defensive against India early on. Attack their weaknesses early and India’s middle-order, lacking in runs, could be exposed. If England dare to go left field by tasking Rashid with the new ball, they might just be able to catch India’s openers by surprise on Sunday.
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The Board reiterated Kohli's assertion that Rohit's fitness will be up for a review on December 11, following which a call would be taken on whether he can be there for the Tests.
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