So far, barring that Hong Kong scare, it has been a smooth sailing for India in this Asia Cup. At the start of the tournament, a lot of people believed that this Virat Kohli-less Indian side would face a stiff challenge from the other top teams. But, it has actually been a complete mismatch as India have turned out to be by far the most dominating team in the competition. And a major reason behind the supremacy has been the stands between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma at the top.
With partnerships of 86, 61 and 210 in the last three matches, the Rohit-Dhawan pair has laid the foundation of stress-free Indian victories on every single occasion. Apart from the 45-run opening stand against Hong Kong while batting first, the rest three significant partnerships at the top have not only helped the defending champions to chase down targets with ease, but the duo has also shielded the so-called vulnerable Indian middle-order pretty aptly.
Sunday’s game against Pakistan was a classic example.
In white-ball cricket at this moment, arguably the Rohit-Dhawan pair is the most destructive one in the world. On their day, they can take any attack to the cleaners. By now, the Pakistani bowlers have realised this really well. On Sunday night, the way the duo went about its business during that run-chase, it seemed both of them were just having a net session in the middle.
At the half-way stage, the target of 237 seemed tricky on that slow track. Pakistan had a versatile bowling attack. Their only way of making India sweat was to make early breakthroughs. They got an opportunity when Rohit miscued a drive off young Shaheen Afridi, but Imam Ul Haq in the cover region failed to grab that easy chance and like a true professional, the Indian stand-in skipper made them pay with an unbeaten ton.
Since that moment, Pakistan did not a sniff of a comeback in the match as both the Indian openers looked in supreme touch. During the partnership, technically Dhawan was the aggressor as he reached his century in just 95 balls, but, it was not all about the attacking batsmanship. Instead, the matured approach by both Rohit and Dhawan throughout this tournament has been the reason behind their success.
On each occasion of the last three run-chases, instead of going all guns blazing right from the start, both Rohit and Dhawan had allowed themselves to settle at the crease in the first 10-15 overs before pushing the accelerator, even if they were chasing modest totals. Being the senior members of this team, they know that without Virat Kohli in the middle-order, the likes of Ambati Rayudu or Dinesh Karthik may feel the pressure if India lose early wickets. Hence, the openers have taken that extra responsibility of extending their stay at the crease for as long as possible.
Their 210-run stand on Sunday night is now the highest opening partnership for India in ODI run chases, surpassing the unbeaten 201-run stand between Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag against New Zealand in Hamilton back in 2009. Overall, it is the fourth highest opening stand for India in all ODIs.
Though, in hindsight, it is also a fact that thus far in this competition, in Dubai the ball hasn’t done much in the second half. In fact, during all four India matches, it seemed the pitch got quicker under lights. And it has allowed the batsmen to dominate. Still, as a batsman, you need that class, quality, and most importantly, the temperament to use the conditions to your advantage, and certainly, the Indian openers have all these ingredients.
The wagon-wheels of both Rohit and Shikhar’s innings in this competition so far clearly depict their dominance. Both had scored all around the wicket without much fuss. Most importantly, both have complemented each other brilliantly. That is the reason why the duo have shared 13 three-figure opening stands already in their ODI careers.
With two more matches to go for India in this Asia Cup, both Rohit and Dhawan would like to finish the assignment on a high note. And somehow if they miss out, especially during the final on 28 September, India’s untested middle-order will be exposed, like it happened at the Champions Trophy final last year.