Ahead of his side’s third ODI against New Zealand in Indore, Indian team head coach Rahul Dravid praised opener and skipper Rohit Sharma for his “complete game” and said the batter’s hallmark is the ability to score big while adding that it is always terrific to watch him lead the side. The third ODI between India and New Zealand will take place in Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on Monday. Men in Blue are leading the series 2-0. Notably, this year also marks a decade of Rohit being an opening batter for India, something which transformed his career graph and statistics drastically.
“He has been a phenomenal player for India. He started as a precarious talent. When I saw him for the first time at 17-18, we thought we were looking at something different. He has proved that. Not a lot of kids go on to reach their potential. But he has achieved his potential and has been a great servant for Indian cricket. His turning point was the opening. His hallmark has been his performances in ICC events and ability to score big. He has a complete game. He has been batting well for us, terrific to watch him bat and lead the side,” said Dravid.
Rohit failed to cross the 1,000-run mark in international cricket last year and could not hit a century, but he has largely looked in supreme touch in ODIs this year. In five ODIs this year, he has scored 227 runs at an average of 45.40 and a strike rate of over 100 with two half-centuries. He has not hit an ODI century since 2020. The batter has supreme statistics as an opener, having scored more than 12,000 runs and 36 centuries as an opener. Dravid said that the side has managed to narrow down on players it wants available for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup this year in October and the focus is that they play as much ODI cricket as they can, give it priority over other formats.
“Over the last three years, there have been two T20 World Cups, that we have finished. This World Cup as well (50-over WC this year). The focus last year was on T20 World Cup and preparations around that. World Test Championship is a continuous cycle, something that always exists in the background and needs to stay in your mind. Last year, along with that (WTC), the idea was to prioritise T20 WC. Now that tournament is done and priority has shifted to the 50-over WC and stay prepared well for that in October. It is a challenge since its three formats and you need to choose which ones to prioritise,” said Dravid in a pre-match press conference.
“We are already five ODI games down this year and have more games coming up. We have narrowed down on players that we want for the 50-over WC to a large extent. We are almost there. It is about ensuring that they play more ODI cricket and prioritise it,” added the head coach. On giving opportunities to youngsters in the final ODI after winning the series, Dravid said while no matches are a formality while playing for India, it is important that players who are in the team’s plans but currently benched get enough game time.
“It is important that you win all the matches and series, but you have to give enough game time to everyone. There is only 11 who can play and there is a total of 15 boys you have. You have to keep 15 players ready when you are building for a big tournament,” added Dravid.
Dravid said that it is currently not known if the local talent Rajat Patidar, who replaced an injured Shreyas Iyer for the series will get a chance, but the batter is well-aware that he will get some game time in case some injuries occur.
“Patidar has done well in Ranji and ODIs. That is why he has been given a chance. But boys who are already playing should be getting enough chances. And there are boys who have not played much ODIs since last two years and they should be getting chances too,” said the head coach. Dravid pointed out that the conditions at the Holkar Stadium in Indore are batting-friendly.
“We will try to restrict them (NZ) to a low score or score big ourselves if we bat first. Indore has been traditionally batting-friendly, bowlers do not want to come here. It is a challenge for them. Big scores are made and they are chased down as well,” said the head coach.
On Virat Kohli not finding a place in the T20I side against New Zealand, Dravid said that it is all about priorities.
“There are some white-ball tournaments we need to give priority to at particular stages of time, especially with the amount of cricket we are playing. The Border Gavaskar Trophy is coming in February and it is important for WTC final qualification, Virat will get a break and will come back refreshed. So, it is all about priorities,” said the head coach.
The head coach said that it is important for wicketkeepers now to contribute significantly with the bat and the side is always looking out for good wicketkeeper-batter options.
“Days of specialist keepers are gone. Glad that KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan are great as batters. There are KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson. You should be able to bat and contribute significantly. We picked up Jitesh Sharma for the T20I series because of his ability to score quickly, as proven in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy,” said the head coach.