Laidback. That’s one of the words which described Rohit Sharma best through the course of his career. You’d struggle to name another player who looked as chilled as him on the field. With his batting so easy on the eye, it seemed he was reckless, not making the most of his talent (another word synonymous with his name). He wore success and failure lightly, and in terms of emotion, the classic Rohit expression is where he squints, puffs his cheeks, and at times lets fly a few words, when a teammate is sloppy on the field.
But this past Sunday, more than 16 years after his international debut, we got to see a side of Rohit we’d never seen before. As the Australian players celebrated, the fireworks went off and the stands at the Narendra Modi Stadium started to empty, he rushed off the field in a daze, head bowed. You could see how hard he was trying to hold back the tears. In the dressing room, when the prime minister entered with his entourage and reminded the players the country was watching, he looked dejected, his eyes were swollen. Somehow, he mustered a smile.
It seemed to end a lifelong dream. More a dagger through the heart than a mere loss. He had helped assemble what many termed India’s finest ODI side. Now 36, he knows another opportunity will probably never come.
In 2007, he played in the team that won the inaugural T20 World Cup. In 2011, he was shattered after being ignored for the home ODI World Cup while eight teammates from the 2007 squad etched their names in history. “Really, really disappointed of not being the part of the WC squad. I need to move on from here. But honestly it was a big setback. Any views!” he wrote on social media then.
It took until 2013, when he began his journey towards ODI greatness. The only one to hit three double centuries, including the highest score (264) and a slew of World Cup landmarks – Rohit kept stacking up records though India failed to add to their tally of ICC titles after the Champions Trophy win a decade ago.
James Norton-Brown of CricViz pointed out on X, “Since 2013, India made the knockout stage of nine ICC events. If you assume each knockout game is 50/50, the probability of India going trophyless throughout was 3.9 percent.”
India’s approach in do-or-die games suggested a sense of fear, as if they weren’t brave enough.
Thus, heading into the 2023 World Cup, Rohit took it upon himself to force a change. As captain, with the marquee event back at home, it was his big opportunity to make amends for the big miss of 2011.
For six weeks, game after game, he and his band played a mesmerising brand of cricket, with bat and ball. A style that gave such joy to fans. Will he be wary of Trent Boult, Shaheen Shah Afridi or Mark Wood? No, each time he took guard it was more like ‘nope, you fear me’. Rohit set up games and wins flowed. He celebrated the fall of every wicket, with arms spread and a wide grin.
“Rohit’s been an exceptional leader, he’s really led this team fantastically well,” said coach Rahul Dravid.
“He’s given so much of his time and energy in the dressing room to the boys. He’s always been available for any of our conversations, meetings. Sometimes there’s been a lot of planning, a lot of strategy that goes in. He’s always committed to those things,” Dravid said. “And his batting as well, it was fantastic, the way he set the tone for us. We knew we wanted to play a certain way, a positive, attacking brand of cricket. And he was very committed to doing that. And he wanted to lead by example. And right through the tournament he was quite superb in doing that. I just can’t speak more highly of him as a person and as a leader.”
Right till the end, he was committed to his role. But it wasn’t meant to be. The pain of 2023 now sits alongside the 2011 heartbreak. Eventually, he’s someone who should put this too in perspective. A fitting tribute to his legacy would be for the Indian team to keep alive his fearless approach.