Over the years, we got used to watching Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma bat together. In 105 innings together, at the top of the order, the duo put on 4726 runs at an average of 45.44 with 16 century stands and 13 50+ stands. Only six pairs have put on more runs as a partnership in the history of the game.

As a result of batting together for so long, Dhawan and Sharma settled into their roles by default. Dhawan was the aggressor, looking to take on the bowling and give India the initial boost. Rohit was the quiet accumulator, feeding off Dhawan’s initial rush, picking the ones and twos, settling in.

After around 10 overs, if he was still there in the middle, Dhawan would start adopting a more relaxed approach as well. Both Dhawan and Sharma, are capable of playing the knock that can hold the innings together and both have the ability to find another gear later in the innings. The fact that they are a left-right combination gives them an added advantage. But perhaps the one thing that is most evident while they are batting together is the sense of innate confidence that seems to ooze out of them at all times.

They are good and they know it. They talk about great players having that aura around them. The Dhawan-Sharma partnership has that too. The opposition knows that if either of them settles in, they will make them pay. So, they can never just focus their attack on one of them.

Highest partnership runs in a career

Partners Span Inns Runs Ave 100 50
S Dhawan, RG Sharma (INDIA) 2011-2019 105 4726 45.44 16 13
V Kohli, RG Sharma (INDIA) 2010-2019 76 4658 65.60 17 14
S Dhawan, V Kohli (INDIA) 2011-2019 49 2891 62.84 8 15
Scroll sideways on mobile phones to see the entire table.

By contrast, the Sharma-KL Rahul opening partnership has a very different dynamic.

Dhawan’s untimely injury against Australia meant that KL Rahul was thrust into a role that he was picked for by the selectors but not one that the team was using him in. The best batting position in an ODI is the opening slot. It allows the batsman to take his time, assess the conditions before deciding the next course of action. But batting at the top of the order also brings the added responsibility of making good the opportunity.

Against Pakistan, Rahul was visibly nervous. After the game against NZ was washed out, this was India’s first game and it was against Pakistan. The young opener got through a tough period with Sharma talking to him through it.

In the Dhawan-Sharma partnership, there seems to be a greater balance – with either taking the lead depending on how they are batting on a given day. Here, Rahul was clearly leaning on Sharma for support and the more experienced batsman responded in kind.

Also read: Here are all the big numbers from Rohit Sharma’s historic century against Sri Lanka

Sharma knows how vital the opening stand is to India and he shepherded Rahul through troubled waters, helping the youngster find his feet. And he did this not just through words but by also looking to score quick runs from the get-go... clearly wanting to reduce the pressure on Rahul.

Now, Rahul can play shots. His performances in the IPL have given the world an unfettered view of his hitting talent. But to do it in the IPL, where one has the license to go berserk, and doing it in the World Cup are two very different things.

Sharma recognises the difference better than most and the manner in which he has taken the lead shows how he has matured as a cricketer.

India’s opening stands after Dhawan injury

Pak - 136 (Rahul 57, Rohit 140)

AFG - 7 (Rohit out for 1, Rahul 30)

WI - 29 (Rohit 18, Rahul 48)

Eng - 8 (Rahul 0, Rohit 102)

Bang - 180 (Rahul 77, Rohit 104)

SL - 189 (Rohit 103, Rahul 111)

That support from Sharma has manifested itself in big runs for the team. Six games, three century partnerships. Not bad for a makeshift pair.

But for the one game against England in which Rahul was dismissed for a duck, he has found an enviable consistency. If there was one thing that was missing, it was that he had not managed to go on and make a century.

And, in India’s last league game, he managed to get there too. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly, on the air, was of the opinion that such knocks can change careers but the really important bit is that the 111 against Sri Lanka might just allow him to go out and play the brand of cricket he is truly capable of.

As good as Rahul has been, his strike-rate of 78.43 also shows that he has a tendency of getting bogged down at odd times. He started off scoring at a run-a-ball against SL [21 off 21 balls] before moving to 45 off 65. He finished well but that is exactly the period where Dhawan and Sharma shine. They keep the scorecard ticking over at a more than acceptable pace.

In the 2019 World Cup...

Rohit Sharma - 647 runs, 5 centuries, 1 fifty, 92.42 avg, SR 98.77

KL Rahul - 360 runs, 1 century, 2 fifties, 51.42 avg, SR 78.43

In the semi-final against New Zealand, the opening partnership will once again be in sharp focus given how India’s lower order hasn’t exactly inspired too much confidence. Sharma’s record-breaking form will allow him to remain in a good ‘head space’ but it will just as important for Rahul to step up now.

Sri Lanka wasn’t a high-pressure game for India and Rahul made the most of the opportunity. But now, he will need to use the confidence gained from that innings to perhaps even take the pressure of Sharma, that is if Sharma is feeling any pressure at all.

The different dynamic of this stand has worked for India and in many ways, after Dhawan’s injury, it might not be wrong to say that this is what the Indian team might have wished for but not been sure of getting.