Watching Rohit Sharma in full flow is a treat that no cricket fan will ever refuse. The languid nature of his batting lends an elegance that was last seen when David Gower clipped one off his legs!! However, the 12 long years that it has taken him to cement a place in the test team after he burst on the scene in the T20 WC 2007, is a time span filled with some bad luck, at times poor shot selection, some technical weakness and a glorious limited overs career.
T20 WC 2007 was a blur for me. The tournament came on the scene without much notice. Many of the senior Indian players skipped the event. Miraculously, India went on to win the Cup with unknown players like Rohit. This was the first time that we got a glimpse of his ability with the bat. Rohit made useful scores against South Africa and Pakistan in that World Cup. However, it was in the ODI series in Australia towards the end of that year that got some of the major commentators very excited by Rohit. After watching him play the square cut and the pull, Ian Chappell said on air that he has seen the man who will replace Sachin at No.4 in tests.
Rohit continued to dazzle one and all in the inaugural IPL 2008 season with his ability to hit big shots playing ‘proper’ cricketing shots, whatever that term means. It all looked only a question of time before Rohit took over Sachin’s mantle in the Indian team. At this time, Virat was still playing Under-19 cricket!!
Rohit was set to play his first test in Feb of 2010 at Nagpur. However, a freak accident on the morning of the game resulted in him unable to make the final cut. Unfortunately, this incident started the downward move of Rohit’s graph and his fortunes in Indian cricket. Rohit had to wait for three more years to get another chance to play in test cricket. Rohit continued to be part of the limited overs international team. The Indian team management believed that he was the one. They continued to talk up his talent and believed that he will prove himself.
Rohit as an opener?
The idea to make Rohit an opener in LOI games was not adopted for the first time during the Champions trophy in 2013. In fact, the Indian team management tried Rohit in the opening spot during the T20 WC in England 2009 and also for a couple of matches in South Africa during the 2010/11 series. Rohit did not make the most of the opportunity at the top and soon lost his place in the 2011 ODI world cup. Rohit’s form continued to dip and he turned in poor performances in the ODI series in Australia in 2011/12. It looked as though the youngster who made Ian Chappell sit up and take notice would lose the plot of his career. He was sarcastically branded as ‘Mr.Talent’ by outsiders.
IPL and Rohit’s resurrection
Even though Rohit’s international career floundered, he continued his stellar form in the Indian Premier League. In 2013, Rohit was made the captain of Mumbai Indians and he finished that season with the IPL title. The responsibility of captaining a big city franchise and winning the title for the club revealed a side of Rohit that was not on public view earlier. This showed to the world that Rohit can take responsibility not only for his game but also for a team of players. Many experts feel today that it was this IPL captaincy that was a big turning point in Rohit becoming a stalwart in Indian colors.
Rohit as an Indian LOI opener
2013 Champions trophy gave India a new opening batting pair, Rohit and Shikar. Shikar’s red hot form during the tournament helped Rohit quietly settle himself into his new role. Rohit made important contributions during the tournament as well. However, Shikar’s form enabled Rohit to play himself in and cut risks out of his game. Added to his batting partner’s form, was Indian team management’s unshakable belief in Rohit’s ability. Even though most outsiders had started to mock Rohit as ‘Mr. Talent’, the Indian team management believed in the true sense of the word and gave Rohit every chance to succeed. So, he did. But, only one step at a time!
The Australia-India ODI run fest gave everyone the glimpse of what Rohit can do with the bat at the top of the order. A double century and a century in a run chase, sealed the deal for Rohit in the ODIs. The big prize, a test debut, was only a question of time now. Rohit was duly inducted into the test team against West Indies as a middle order batsman. Rohit rewarded the faith of his team management with a century on debut! For a moment, it looked like this prized talent had found his highest perch forever. This was the moment, may be, Rohit thought he was the one. However, as with Rohit’s career, his fortunes started to dip again due to a mixture of bad form and fitness.
2014 – The almost year
After a seeing Rohit have a successful 2013, I felt that 2014 will be the year of Rohit. Rohit made useful contributions to the test team in NZ at the beginning of the year. He top scored in the first innings of the first test, scoring 70 odd runs out of 202 runs that the team made. Rohit was on his way to establishing himself in test cricket.
I looked forward to the Indian tour of England as the final arbiter of Rohit becoming an established test player. However, India decided to play with five bowling options in the first two tests, which meant that Rohit had to sit the first two tests out. Then came the third test on a flat surface in Southampton. This is it, I hoped.
India went into the third test leading the series 1-0 and Rohit got his chance as the sixth batsman. In the first innings, Rohit started off well scoring 28 runs. Soon after, he perished playing a shot that led to many questioning his focus and temperament to play tests. He did not score much in the second innings and duly lost his place for the next test matches. The year that started with promise began to fade away for Rohit. An untimely injury saw Rohit miss the flight to Australia towards the end of that year.
However in colored clothing, Rohit continued to delight his fans. The 260 odd runs against the Lankans showed his other-worldly hitting prowess. I will not blame if Sinatra might have been tempted to change the lyrics of his song to ‘hitting them softly out of the park’. The post match comments from Rohit showed how exasperated he was with the bad timing of his injuries and his lost chances.
2016 – Another almost year
The year of 2015 was dominated by the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia. Rohit turned in excellent performances at the top of the order helping India reach the semi-finals of the big event. However, his poor performances in the few chances he had in test cricket against South Africa kept Rohit’s stocks down. Before Rohit, Yuvraj, Ajay Jadeja and a few others had gone on to become Indian greats without having a good test career. But, such luxury was not afforded to Rohit. In everyone’s minds, Rohit had a destiny to fulfill and we, cricket lovers, would not accept anything less. For us, he was the One and it was high time he knew it!
In the second half of 2016, the Kiwis toured India for a test series. Rohit received yet another chance to cement his place in the test team. This time Rohit did not disappoint his supporters. On a typical slow and low wicket in Kanpur, Rohit turned in good scores in both the innings to aid the team’s cause. However, it was in the second innings of the second test in Kolkata that he would go on to play his best test innings.
Eden Gardens sported a newly laid pitch that aided fast bowlers. Boult, Henry and Wagner needed no second invitation to run the Indian batsmen ragged. In the second innings, they left India tottering at 43 for 4, when Rohit walked in to join his Captain. The test match was in the balance and the onus was on this pair to take India to safety. The pitch was playing its tricks and the Kiwis had the Indian batsmen jumping and fishing. In such difficult conditions, Rohit scored a high quality 80 to take India to safety. He stitched important partnerships with Saha and Bhuvi to take India to safety. Finally, it looked like Rohit will fulfill his destiny! Alas, his luck ran out, once again.
Rohit injured himself during the second test and had to sit out of the team for a long time to let his body heal. Rohit missed the India-England series at home, where India beat the English 4-0. Rohit’s date with destiny was postponed, once again.
2017/2018 – Same old, same old
Rohit missed the brilliant India-Australia series of 2017 due to injury. After his return from injury, Rohit’s form in limited overs international and IPL continued to be on the upswing. Rohit led Mumbai Indians to win the IPL 2017.
Rohit’s next opportunity in test cricket would come in South Africa. India toured South Africa for a three test series early in 2018. Rohit was picked ahead of Ajinkya Rahane, much to the chagrin of Indian Cricket pundits. Rohit had to prove himself against a lethal bowling attack that comprised Rabada, Styen, Morkel and Philander. If he can do it against these guys, he can do it anywhere, was the hope of the team management.
The South African quicks, particularly Rabada, made a mockery of Rohit’s technique against fast bowling in seaming conditions. They targeted his left pad that went across the line and had him in front of the wicket. If not this way, they made him follow the ball only to edge to the slips. South African commentators questioned Rohit’s presence in the batting line up as against Rahane. After his ordinary performances in the first and the second test, Rohit’s test career looked all but over. Rohit was dropped for the third test and his date with destiny was postponed indefinitely.
Rohit continued with his exploits in the limited overs cricket scoring centuries at will in ODIs and T20s. Whether it was England or India, ODIs or T20s, Rohit made merry at the top. Rohit, the limited overs specialist, was to be the final words on the epitaph of his career.
2019 – The year of Rohit, finally
The year began with the Indian team winning their first ever test series down under. Rohit did not play a part in the test series. His contributions in the limited overs internationals were not great either. However, his start to the year was no indication of what was to follow!
ICC World cup 2019 was the stage that Rohit chose to start the journey once again to keep his date with destiny. On a tough pitch in Southampton, Rohit helped India win their first match against South Africa. Though he received many lucky breaks in this innings, Rohit showed the temperament to take India to victory in a tough chase. Rohit continued his match winning performances in the tournament and scored five centuries in cricket’s biggest tournament. Even though India failed to reach the finals, Rohit grew in stature as a premier batsman in Indian cricket. Rohit was finally accepted as a big match/big tournament player. However, he still had to prove himself in test cricket.
There is something about a move to the opening position and resurrection of Mumbai based player’s careers. Much to the great surprise of many, the ever supporting Indian team management decided to play Rohit at the top of the Indian test batting line up against the touring South Africans. This move of the team management came out of the blue for outsiders like me, who had settled for Rohit going through the rest of his career as a limited overs specialist. The team management, which spends lot more time closer to the players, must have seen a new dimension in Rohit’s performance in the World cup. May be this time, the man believed that he could keep his date with destiny.
What followed in the series against South Africa was an encore performance by Rohit. Rohit plundered the hapless South African bowlers on pitches that had some help for the fast bowlers. The surface in Pune offered good bounce and movement to the quicks. Rohit played with caution at the start and pounced on the older ball to make a brilliant double century. Of all the runs he scored in this series, these 200 odd runs showed that Rohit is here to stay in test cricket. Like Morpheus said, Rohit now knows that he is the ONE! Maybe this is what the team management noticed after the World Cup.