Sports is mainly about winning and losing. It is about outclassing your opponent in terms of skill and temperament. It makes for a compelling viewing because of the competitive edge. Rohit Sharma has skill and class in abundance.
And that competitive edge and desire to win at all costs has resulted in analysing and strategizing in sports one of the key elements to success. It is no different in cricket. The presence of so many cameras from so many different angles exposes everything on the cricket field.
It was the Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan in 2018. In that game, Rohit was struggling against Mohammed Amir at the start of his innings. It was then that former Pakistan opener Amir Sohail on commentary rightly pointed out that Rohit gets on his toes early and therefore is unable to move his back leg according to the line and length of the ball.
It was a great observation from Sohail. And left one wondering that Rohit Sharma, one of the best white-ball batsman in the world, has a glaring technical flaw.
Fast forward to the fourth ball of the 7th over bowled by Mohammed Amir, and Rohit Sharma square-cut Amir ferociously to the point boundary, standing tall and not holding back one bit. The next ball Amir pitched it full and Rohit hit it elegantly through covers off the front foot.
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In space of two balls, Rohit had hit Pakistan’s best bowler off either foot without breaking a sweat. And from thereon, Rohit switched on his engine. Suddenly feet were moving better, ball was hitting the middle of the bat and Rohit Sharma was putting on a show.
That’s the thing with Rohit Gurunath Sharma. The elegant right-hander has the ability to delight and disgust fans in equal measure. Rohit can make you pull your hair in despair at one moment and leave you gasping for breath with his brilliance the other. He is not Virat Kohli. Or Steven Smith.
He is not perfect. He is not flawless. But he is irresistible. He is imperfectly elegant. A genius in his own right, he is an artist, a performer, an entertainer to the core!
True, Rohit has not won as many matches for India as Virat Kohli. He is not a run machine as the Indian captain is. And record books will remember Kohli as the better batsman. Kohli is certainly the better batsman.
He is leagues above all his peers in ODI cricket, but there is something about Rohit that makes you fall in love with his batting. The audacious ease with which he plays some of his strokes makes you drop your jaws in utter disbelief. He is an artist that paints a beautiful picture while batting.
The ease with which the picture is painted in front of your eyes with a brush of unreal, sometimes arrogant but always elegant strokes, makes you feel that his picture is incomplete. Rohit makes you crave for more, and that’s the beauty of his batting.
A ROUGH START
But the currency of batting is not beauty and elegance. It is runs. And you are judged by how many you score, not by how beautifully you have scored. Rohit has learned that lesson the hard way.
The first half of his career, he batted in the middle order and was very frustrating. Ever since he scored that 50 against South Africa in World T20 in 2007, most realised that we have a special player on our hands. Rohit always had that split second extra while playing his shots. And he was comfortable against pace and bounce.
The promise was always there. He found frustrating ways to get out. It almost seemed he did not care. It seemed his ego was big enough to handle his talent. With his inconsistent performances, he was in and out of the Indian side. He never seemed to nail a spot in India’s middle order.
With the sensational rise of Virat Kohli, it almost seemed as if Rohit Sharma will remain an unfulfilled talent, a mere footnote. He himself might have lost confidence at one stage where in the 2012 tour of Sri Lanka he recorded scores of 5,0,0,4,4 in 5 ODI’s. It was a dreadful series for Rohit and even his most ardent fans might have run out of reasons defending his selection.
THE MOVE AT THE TOP
But one man believed in Rohit and he was the most important man in Indian cricket at that time – MS Dhoni. The then Indian skipper was too adamant at sticking with Rohit and to get the best out of the Mumbai batsman, Dhoni asked him to open the batting in limited-overs cricket.
The decision that seemed ridiculous and a desperate measure back then in 2013, has proved to be an absolute masterstroke. It not only revived Rohit’s career but also gave India one of its best limited-overs openers. Since the time Rohit started opening, there has been no looking back.
Since June 2013, when Sharma was paired with Dhawan at the top of the order for the Champions Trophy, the elegant right-hander has scored over 7000 runs at a mind-boggling average of 59 which is clearly the best among the openers around the world during this period.
THE ODI BEAST
The best thing about Rohit Sharma, the ODI beast, is his ability to score big hundreds. Once Rohit is set, it is almost impossible to stop him. Out of his 29 one day international hundreds, he has gone onto to score more than 120 on 20 occasions, with three of them being legendary double hundreds.
The way Rohit paces his innings is a masterclass in itself. He starts slowly, gets into his groove post his 50, and then goes into overdrive mode post his hundred. And it’s not some normal overdrive. It’s an insane nitro boosted overdrive. When in that rampaging mode, it feels like he is playing Stick cricket.
A few years ago, Indian captain Virat Kohli, in an interview with Cricinfo had said, “If you see Rohit, it is crazy. I have never seen a guy after he gets set be so dangerous. You take the best finishers in the game – [Kieron] Pollard, [James] Faulkner, [Eoin] Morgan – but when Rohit gets set it is almost impossible to stop him.
I mean, it is ridiculous the kind of hitting he does after getting 50. You know if Rohit Sharma is on 50 with four overs to go, you are in troubled waters. Literally, save yourself. I’m not joking.”
WORLD CUP HERO
One of the biggest disappointments in his career was missing out on India’s triumphant World Cup campaign in 2011. His inconsistency in his earlier years led to his dropping from the side and that snub hurt him big time.
Eight years later on the biggest stage of all, Rohit Sharma wrote a new chapter in his illustrating career. Rohit went on to score 648 runs in the tournament thereby collecting the Golden Bat.
With 5 centuries in the World Cup, he set a new record of centuries in a single edition. His heroics could not stop India from exiting at the semi-final stage but ensured his legacy on the biggest stage in ODI cricket.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE HITMAN
With the weight of runs complimenting the aesthetic beauty of his batting, with substance accompanying style, the Rolls Royce of Indian batting has become a truly unstoppable force in ODI cricket. With some players, it is not about watertight technique. It is not about thinking too much.
It is just about expressing your ability. And Rohit does that in enviable style. With a home World Cup in 3 years time, India will be hoping that Rohit continues on his journey to becoming the best version of himself and eventually get his hands around the coveted trophy.
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