After India suffered an early exit in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid took charge of the side and recognised the need to shrug off their old safety-first approach and adopt a more gung-ho one. Captain Rohit has led the way, going harder at the top than ever before.
"After the T20 World Cup in Dubai, when we didn't qualify [for the semi-finals], we felt that there needs to be a change in our attitude, in our approach in how we play the game," Rohit recently told Star Sports on the Follow the Blues show. "So, we had a clear message given to the boys and they were ready to accept the challenge. If the messages are clear from the captain and the coach, and where the team is trying to head, the individuals will definitely try and do that. And for that they need freedom, they need clarity, which is what we are trying to do. We are trying to give them as much freedom as possible."
From January 2019 to until the end of the T20 World Cup in November 2021, Rohit's first-ten-balls strike rate was 119.6. Although that was higher than his first-ten-balls strike rate of 108.20 from his T20I debut in September 2007 to December 2018, it was still behind the curve.
However, since July this year, after recovering from Covid-19, Rohit has dashed out of the blocks, with that strike rate jumping up to 153.60 - the third best among openers who have played at least five T20I innings against current Full-Member nations. Globally, only England's Jos Buttler (169) and Ireland's Paul Stirling (166) are ahead of Rohit on this list.
Rohit's overall T20I strike rate in the powerplay also illustrates the change in his approach. From January 2019 to the end of the last year's T20 World Cup in November, he had struck at 139.07 in the first six overs in T20Is. Since the start of 2022, that T20I powerplay strike rate has also jumped up to 147.82 - the best among openers who have played at least ten innings this year. West Indies' Kyle Mayers (143.33), Zimbabwe's Regis Chakabva (137.60), Stirling (129.74) and Andy Balbirnie, also from Ireland (128.49), are the others in the top five on this list.
Rohit's most recent T20I innings in the fourth game against West Indies at Lauderhill in Florida was an excellent example of India staying true to their new style of batting. After realising that there was no swing or seam movement on offer for both Dominic Drakes and Obed McCoy, Rohit lined them up and played some high-risk shots that fetched him high reward.
He first backed away against Drakes, then advanced at him, taking a fullish ball from middle stump and belting it straight down the ground, leaving Suryakumar Yadav ducking for cover. Then, when McCoy hit an in-between length outside off, from over the wicket, Rohit opened up his hips and unleashed a full-blooded slog over midwicket for six. He was hitting against the angle and across the line - a risk that resulted in his wicket in St Kitts - but he still went for it and that's the rub.
Rohit raced to 27 off 13 balls in four overs. He had the option to sit back and play out Akeal Hosein, West Indies' premier spinner and their most economical bowler since his T20I debut last July. Rohit, however, slogged once again, launching Hosein against the turn over wide long-on for six more. It took India past fifty in 27 balls, but given the small boundaries at the venue, Rohit understood that he had to keep going hard to set India up for an above-par total.
He backed away next ball and aimed to pump Hosein over extra-cover, but the spinner had gone wide of the crease and turned one past the outside edge to hit the off stump. Rohit was dismissed for 33 off 16 balls, but he was the only Indian batter to strike at over 200 on a pitch that slowed down later in the day.
Rohit had struck at a similarly rapid clip when he scored 40 off 19 balls against West Indies in Kolkata and 31 off 20 against England in Birmingham earlier this year. Rohit and coach Dravid have also given the rest of the India batters the freedom and security to bat in similar fashion, despite the odd failure.
In T20Is in 2022, India have scored at a rate of 9.29 per over, their best in a year where they have played more than one match. Only New Zealand (9.83) have scored at a faster rate.
"When he [Dravid] became the coach here, we met and we sat together in a room for a while and we discussed how we want to take this team forward," Rohit said." He was pretty much on the same thought process of what I was thinking. So, it made it [a] little easier for me to give out the clear messages to the boys because we don't want to create any confusion amongst the group.
"That is something we spoke about and of course we wanted to change our style of cricket as well. We wanted to play in a certain way in all three formats and he was ready to accept all of that. So far, it has been really, really good. I'm looking forward to achieving something really, really great under his coaching."
India have won six of their seven bilateral T20I series since the last T20 World Cup - the one against South Africa was shared after rain had washed out the decider in Bengaluru in June - with their new approach.
Can they sustain it and achieve that greatness when a world title is on the line in Australia? That will be the biggest challenge for Rohit and co.
Stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman