“Whatever that happened before 2013, just forget that. Ask me questions only about after 2013,” said a candid Rohit Sharma in a press conference recently when he was asked about his career. For a 13-year-old who was watching teenage Rohit batting with his idol, Sachin Tendulkar, forgetting his pre-2013 performances is impossible. In fact, the baton was passed on that day, or at least I thought so.
Between 2008 and 2013, Virat Kohli had come up, Suresh Raina was always there, and somehow Rohit hadn’t held on to that baton. These are the three batsmen, who were less than 25 years of age in that period for India and clearly, Rohit was way behind the other two, at least in terms of their numbers if not talent.
I always wondered why. Is it the ever-surrounding hype around him that built additional pressure along with the opponents or the constant comparison to being the next big thing from Mumbai, we would never know. There wasn’t an aura around Kohli – like it was with Rohit – when he made his debut. Maybe it helped him. He had a good start and gradually progressed to be a great ODI batsman. More often than not Rohit’s innings were about what it could have been rather than what it actually turned out to be.
In those five years, Rohit batted in the middle-order, and he had just one good season in 2011. It was soon after the World Cup which he didn’t play. Rohit has often said that it was one of the biggest setbacks in his career. He had a couple of good series against West Indies at home and away. It made up for the poor performances before and after.
So, when Rohit opened against England at Mohali in January 2013, it was more or less the last hope of breaking into the team which had Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Raina and MS Dhoni in the middle-order.
Rohit made 83 in a must-win game to keep the series alive. In his 86-match career till then, Rohit had made two hundreds (against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka) and eleven fifties. He averaged 30.43 at a strike rate of 77.9. In that match, when Rohit lofted James Tredwell for a six down the ground, Harsha Bhogle said on air, “When you look at Rohit Sharma bat like that, you would say why he has a record like the one he does.” His career up to that point could not have been summed up better.
While opening the batting was an important turnaround in his career, it wasn’t the breaking point where he became the best of what he could. Maybe, he improved his record from below average to above average or good. In the next three years, Rohit would score eight centuries and 17 fifties. His partner, Shikhar Dhawan, had a century more. Statistically, one could take that record any day. The difference, though, was the inconsistency with which he scored. In the 67 matches he played during that period, Rohit got out for a score lesser than or equal to twenty 35 times. For example, in 2014, Rohit scored 578 runs at an average of 52.4. But it was inflated by one innings where he scored 264 runs. So, the daddy hundreds that Rohit is known for scoring contributed to his superb batting average.
To me, the point where Rohit Sharma turned from a good ODI batsman towards becoming a great was the series against Sri Lanka in 2017.
The Island country was a nemesis for Rohit. Prior to that series, his record there was horrendous. He averaged 14.78 in 21 matches. Rohit made up for his struggles with 302 runs in that series. He scored two centuries and a half-century. Until that series, Rohit has scored fifty or more at an average of every 3.64 innings. Since then, it has come down to 2.18 Innings. The longest he went without scoring at a half-century was five matches in early 2019. To put into perspective, only Kohli had scored at a better rate (1.92 innings).
When it comes to openers, Rohit wins it hands-down. Since he started opening, Rohit has scored more runs than any other opener in the world. He has scored 27 centuries, followed by Dhawan and Hashim Amla with 17. He averages 59.32, which is seven points more than the second-best David Warner. Rohit’s transformation has been phenomenal, particularly in the last three years.
I grew up with the ebbs and flows of Rohit’s career. He has been a part of my life. For long I have lamented about the Test career that could have been. It took years for both him and me to come to terms with it. While I do have seen Yuvraj and Raina as limited-overs specialists, I haven’t felt about their prospective Test career like I did for Rohit.
In fact, the teenage Rohit Sharma has transformed into an ODI beast now just as that thirteen-year-old kid’s age has doubled.
However, the question still remains.
Has the baton been passed on? Is Rohit Sharma the best batsman for India in ODIs like Sachin used to be once?
Well, not yet. But he isn’t far from becoming one either. Except that he is just behind a freakishly good Virat Kohli. Maybe he might go past Kohli in ODIs someday. The closest he came was during the World Cup and the West Indies series that followed the mega event last year. Maybe, he might not at all.
In many ways, his career might not be ‘the perfect’ template. But then, life isn’t perfect as well. Rohit is someone who taught us that it is okay if one could not be perfect at everything. One can always try and be the best we can in whatever opportunity we get. Maybe, that’s why I relate more to Rohit Sharma than Virat Kohli. The latter is the perfect symbol of an all-format great in cricket, but not everyone can be Virat. In fact, one might not even be able to emulate the disdain with which Rohit plays his shots, but we can always try and do the best we can in the opportunities that come our way, which is just what Rohit did.
Rohit turns 33 today. India’s World Cup exit last year would have been the hardest for him, especially after the kind of career he has had. By the time next World Cup comes, I wish he would still be there at his best to fulfil his dream.
Will he win the next World Cup? Will he become the number one ODI batsman in the course of time? Will he have a reasonably successful Test career until he plays? Only time will tell. But, to me, it doesn’t really matter as long as I get to watch him bat. Happy Birthday, Rohit Sharma!