Mahela Jayawardene feels that Rohit Sharma should have opened in India's must-win T20 World Cup 2021 match against New Zealand on Sunday. Rohit scored a run-a-ball 14 after he came in at No.3 and India finished 110/7, which the Blackcaps chased down with ease to hand them a second straight defeat.
India, rather surprisingly, went in with the opening combination of Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul, while slotting in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli at No.3 and No.4 respectively against New Zealand. The move backfired, with none of the top-four making a significant contribution to leave the side struggling at 48/4 after 10.1 overs.
India could strike just eight fours and two sixes in an innings that was eventually limited to 110/7.
Mahela Jayawardene, who has been observing Rohit and Kishan closely during his time as the Mumbai Indians coach over the years, believed that the vice-captain should have opened, and that the tinkering of the batting order could have served better had it been done outside of the top-three.
"That's his role he (Rohit) plays in T20 cricket and Virat Kohli is either an opener or No. 3,” the former Sri Lanka captain said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out. “I think KL Rahul would have been able to play that No. 4 role because he has that ability to change and adapt.
"You can be flexible. But not with your top-three batters. I think most teams if you take, you don't have too much flexibility in that top three. They are settled. They are the ones who are going to give you that initial tempo, who are going to go about things. And then you have that guy at No. 3 who is going to glue things together and bat in both halves of the innings and the rest of the guys are the ones who will probably get floated in and around."
Jayawardene further emphasised on how just one subtle change could’ve helped India to progress effectively throughout their innings.
"In an ideal scenario, if India had a good start and had a settled thing, even Rishabh Pant could have batted No. 4 - given they [New Zealand] had a left-arm spinner [Mitchell Santner] and a leg-spinner [Ish Sodhi], he would have got more licence to then play knowing that he had two-three batters behind him,” said the 2014 T20 World Cup winner.
"So rather than making all those changes they should have done just that subtle change - one in, one out - and then maybe one batter changing positions, rather than three batters changing their slots, would have made a bit more sense. Especially going against a very good New Zealand new-ball attack because it was always going to do a little bit in those three-four overs."
India’s hopes of a semi-final qualification look slim, with them now having to rely on other results, while winning each of their remaining Super 12s fixtures. Jayawardene believed that the 2007 champions still stand a chance, and that even an unsuccessful campaign would help them reflect upon the team combinations, with the next edition not too far away.
"They still have an opportunity. Anything can happen,” he said. “And if they sneak through to those semi-final spots they are a force to reckon with. But if they don't have a successful T20 World Cup, there's another one coming pretty soon [in Australia in late 2022] and obviously it's an opportunity for them to look at some of the other options that they have.
"We see a lot of young Indian players coming through, we've seen it in the IPL as well, in the big stage, playing with fearlessness. They bat just the situation, they don't bat anything other than that. So that's something you need in T20 cricket. Bit of experience and a bit of fearlessness to guide you through those tough situations."