When Rohit Sharma walked out to open the innings against Pakistan in the World Cup on June 16 at Old Trafford, Manchester, it is quite possible that his mind travelled back to his three-ball duck against the same opponents in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Quite possibly, his 20-ball 15 against Pakistan at the 2015 World Cup in Adelaide rankled too. Amends had to be made for both ‘failures’.
In sublime form, Rohit compensated in a bravura style he has made his own. The 32-year-old proved once again—if proof was required—his imperious mastery of ODI batsmanship, inhabiting the rank of the world No.2 ODI batsman with cool assurance. On a scoreboard recording India’s comprehensive 89-run win over Pakistan, his 113-ball 140 sparkles the brightest. Earlier in this World Cup, he had hammered, nay laced, 122 not out against South Africa and 57 against defending champions Australia. Rohit was in form, but needed to stamp his authority over Pakistan. In the event, a couple of run out chances rose up as mirages, tantalising the hapless Pakistanis, then they were blanked out by Rohit’s unremitting brilliance, till he gave his wicket up.
Rohit is often compared to Virat Kohli in terms of consistency. Kohli may be the world No.1 ODI batsman, but Rohit the opener has lately been more consistent than his captain, as his last 12 innings testify: 87, 62, 7, 2, 37, 0, 14, 95, 56, 122 not out, 57, and 140. The India vice-captain’s impactful run in the World Cup is indeed staggering: 319 runs, including two centuries, in three innings, with the New Zealand match being a lost opportunity to score more.
Kohli may be the only batsman so far in cricket history to average more than 50 in all three formats—Tests (53.76), ODIs (59.57, till the Pakistan match) and T20 Internationals (50.29). Rohit, too, is in a rarefied echelon–classical, lazy elegance, and a silkily fluid strokeplay that seem to invite only superlatives for comparison. Kohli may appear to hurry into his shots, be it a rasping cover drive or a confident pull, but in contrast to Kohli’s emphatic strokeplay, Rohit inflicts minimum violence: the bat, so slight and malleable in his hands, seems to be a magic wand, sending loose deliveries shamefacedly to the boundary, or a potentate’s sceptre, banishing balls that have the audacity to rear at him, depositing them over the ropes. We see him now executing those upper cuts over the slips and point, the pulls behind the square leg umpire, the gentle pushes—all of them nonchalantly.
What lies behind the freshly geared brio that is lifting Rohit’s game in this World Cup? Rohit Sharma enlightens us himself: “It’s a very good phase in my life. The newly born daughter has put me in a very good space. I’m enjoying my cricket, coming off a great IPL campaign. The focus was always to start off well and then see where the team is heading—and then the individual.” He said this after India’s 89-run win against Pakistan.
Coach and former India batsman Pravin Amre, who has seen his fellow Mumbaikar flourish from his early years, throws some more light. “As an opener, he now takes his time to settle down. He has matured and his confidence comes from scoring consistently. Moreover, he is now taking more responsibility, as if he is going to play 300 balls. He looks more determined to succeed, perhaps because he was ignored for the 2011 World Cup [though he played in the 2015 World Cup], after playing in the T20 World Cup four years earlier, in 2007. He is now self-motivated and has the hunger to score runs,” the former India opener, who saw Rohit represent Mumbai as the team’s coach from 2006 to 2010, tells Outlook.
Interestingly, the man who scores tons for fun took 43 ODIs to score his first century (Sachin Tendulkar took 79 matches to get his first hundred). The Rolls Royce has chewed up pitches on all continents since then: Rohit has smashed three double centuries, part of his 24 tons in 209 ODIs.
Kiran More, a former India wicket-keeper and chief national selector, first saw Rohit score a century in Baroda as a teenager and was ‘amazed’ by his potential. “When you see a player you give him more opportunities. Earlier he would at times play rash shots, but not now. Today, he has become a top player. And everyone—Dhoni, Virat etc.—trusts him. If Rohit wins one out of six matches I’ll be happy,” More tells Outlook.
Rohit’s former Mumbai teammate Wasim Jaffer feels he has sorted out his batting jigsaw. “Earlier, his batting position wasn’t settled. But a lot of people backed him as they saw the potential. He is now realising his potential. He doesn’t take undue risks initially, till 30-35 balls. Then he shifts gears. He is in a good shape in his personal life and that too helps,” says Jaffer, under whose captaincy Rohit represented Mumbai.
In a place like England, where the ball wobbles and seams a lot, openers play a crucial role—see off the new ball and build a foundation for the middle-order to build upon. Match after match, Rohit is giving Team India an ideal springboard. His caressing blade must speak eloquently in the matches to come.