MUMBAI (Reuters) - Rohit Sharma's unbeaten century in India's Cricket World Cup opener against South Africa augured well for the team and will help take some pressure off captain Virat Kohli, former opening batsman Krishnamachari Srikkanth has said.
Chasing South Africa's 227-9, India lost opener Shikhar Dhawan for eight and then batting mainstay Kohli for 18 with the score on 54-2 at the Rose bowl in Southampton.
Opener Rohit, however, ensured the victory ended up being a comfortable one with an unbeaten 122 as India reached their target with six wickets in hand and 15 balls to spare.
"Rohit Sharma's return to form is the biggest positive for India after the first game of the tournament," Srikkanth said in a column for the International Cricket Council.
"Opening batsmen are crucial at the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup and Sharma more than anyone has that ability to turn it on. He can go from first gear to fourth gear in an instant and just kick on from there and keep clicking through the gears.
"For India, having someone who can go and get not just hundreds but even double hundreds is a major asset and also relieves the pressure on Virat Kohli a little."
Rohit, 32, owns the highest one-day international score of 264 and also has two other innings of over 200 under his belt in the format.
He had scored two and 19 in the warm-up games against New Zealand and Bangladesh respectively and had to knuckle down at the start of his innings against some inspired fast bowling from South Africa duo Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris.
"The trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Sharma and Kohli will be crucial to India's chances so it is a great sign that Sharma got a hundred and saw them over the line," Srikkanth, who was part of India's 1983 World Cup-winning side, said.
"He did not need to ramp it up against South Africa, who had not scored enough runs in Southampton, but that knock will do him a lot of good."
Rohit added 85 for the third wicket with Lokesh Rahul, who made 26, and another 74 for the fourth with Mahendra Singh Dhoni to help India overcome the early loss of wickets.
"I think it is true in all formats that partnerships win matches," said Srikkanth, who has also served as India's chief selector in the past.
"You cannot rely on the individuals, and that was very impressive from India to see significant partnerships from a few players."
Srikkanth lauded fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who sent back South Africa opening pair Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock in a devastating opening spell.
Playing his first 50-over World Cup match, Bumrah finished with two for 35 -- the most economical 10-over spell yet at this year's tournament.
"It was nice to have little bit of help (from the pitch)," the world's top-ranked bowler told reporters.
"When you have some help, don't try to do too much. Just bowl good hard lengths, that was the plan and I tried to stick to it.
"You always want to start well in a big tournament like this. When you do, it's a positive for the team and you don't have to play catch-up."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney)