Rohit Sharma: The man on a mission

The 36-year-old Indian captain is showing a sharp edge in his leadership, not to speak of the dream batting form he is in

Rohit Sharma in action against England, 29 October 2023 (photo: ICC)
Rohit Sharma in action against England, 29 October 2023 (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s stating the obvious to say that Rohit Sharma is a man on a mission in the ongoing World Cup. While his form with the bat so far has been leaving cricket fans at a loss in search of the right imagery, it’s the new no-nonsense, sharp edge in his leadership that convinces one about how keyed up he is to complete an unfinished business with the World Cup. 

Take his team’s 100-run demolition of England at Lucknow on Sunday. It’s another matter that the bowlers eventually made it a walk in the park, but when India slipped to 40 for three after batting upfront for the first time in this tournament, the signs seemed a little ominous.

The skipper immediately decelerated and began the repair job with KL Rahul, but did not mince any words in the post-match presentation. 

‘’We lost three wickets in the powerplay – which was not an ideal situation at all. We were at least 30 runs short, but the bowlers did the job for us,’’ he sounded a word of caution after receiving the Player of the Match for his 87 under most challenging circumstances.

The skipper has clawed up to fourth position among the top rungetters so far with 393 runs from six innings but for the 36-year-old who is certainly playing his last 50-overs showpiece – individual goals can come later. 

A throwback to the 2019 edition shows how personal form, an unstoppable run in the league stages can come for nought when India fell to New Zealand in the semi-final.

The Virat Kohli-led team swept through the first five matches before stumbling to England during a run chase while Rohit had hit a purple patch with five classy centuries. However, to the Indian fan, it was a tournament best remembered for failing to end their jinx in ICC tournaments. 

There is an underlying poignant sub-plot to India’s campaign this time – that of being the likely last bow for both of their modern greats Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. The media has been conjuring up hypothetical climaxes of Kohli being chaired by his teammates on November 19, ala what he did with Sachin Tendulkar in 2011, but then professional sport does not always guarantee fairytale endings. 

When Mumbai erupted on that magical night on April 2, a young Rohit Sharma must have sulking at his home in the same city. It’s a snub by the national selectors which still hurts him, as he confided in several interviews later - and steeled him to pursue his future goals.

Mind you, a teenager Rohit had already been a member of M.S. Dhoni’s 2007 World T20 winning team and was being mentioned in the same breath as Kohli as two of India’s rising batting talents in white ball cricket. 

Since then, Rohit has been playing catch-up on various fronts in his career. His Test career, which began on a rousing note with a 177 against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 2013, had to wait for six more years till the then head coach Ravi Shastri convinced him to be an opener.

Talk about captaincy of the Indian team, he first stepped in for Kohli in end-2017 in a ODI against Sri Lanka and the very next year, guided India to a Asia Cup triumph in 2018 in Dubai in Kohli’s absence. 

However, it was not till three years later that Rohit – with already five IPL crowns in the bag as captain of Mumbai Indians – took over the T20 captaincy and became the all-format captain soon after at a mature age of 34.

Call him the late bloomer in terms of captaincy, but the man with a easygoing demeanour but a canny cricketing nousse has not done too badly – boasting of a win per percentage of nearly 74 in 100 international matches across all formats after the Lucknow win.        

The innings of 87 against England also hoisted him among top five batters for the country to cross 18,000-run mark across all formats. The existing club boasts of Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly while he has the fourth most international hundreds for India (45) behind Tendulkar (100), Kohli (78) and Dravid (48).   

Unike his peer Kohli, Rohit has never laid any claims to any obsession or pride about fitness. There were enough doubts if he could take the rigours of all-format captaincy with history of a knee surgery and injury woes dogging him through his career. He has found a way to circumvent it and seems to be in no mood to let there be any slip between the lip and the cup this time.  

No one will grudge him if he is the last man standing! 

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