By Dushyant Shekhawat Jul. 09, 2019
Even for someone who has never been Team Rohit, his impressive World Cup performances are a joy to watch, completely devoid of the vagaries that plagued his batting earlier in his career. The shaky, patchy Rohit Sharma appears to have vanished, replaced by the Hitman who haunts bowlers’ dreams.
Much has been written about how this has been one of the most predictable ICC World Cup editions in recent memory. The end result of the league stage justifies that claim — India, Australia, England, and New Zealand making it to the semi-finals was as much of a sure thing as Narendra Modi’s second term as PM. But even as it appears that all the teams at the tournament played their roles as expected, one player veered so far off the script that he might as well have lofted it over mid on for six. That player is the normally hit-or-miss Rohit Sharma, who has found uncharacteristically consistent form on cricket’s biggest stage.
Of course, Sharma’s talent is undeniable — he has more double centuries to his name than any other ODI batsman — but until recently he was synonymous with unfulfilled potential for many fans. I was one of them. Even though I root for Team India, where Sharma is a crucial player, and Mumbai Indians, where he is the captain, my opinion of him was never too high. Compared to his peers like Virat Kohli, or even his seniors like MS Dhoni, he always seemed less fit, less eager to dart between the wickets for difficult twos and threes. When fielding, Sharma is the kind you try to conceal in the slips or at short cover, and pray that catches go straight to him so that he doesn’t have to chase the ball too hard. As a batsman, Sharma was blessed with exceptional talent, but he had a reputation as a flat track bully, the archetypal lion at home and lamb abroad.
And then there was the fluctuating form. Sharma used to be the anti-Glenn McGrath of consistency. Even his most ardent fans had to acknowledge that every time he took the crease, he would deliver a surprise — whether it was pleasant or unpleasant varied from day-to-day. For me, it became a habit to indulge in wild speculation before every Rohit Sharma innings. Would we be getting the Hitman, or only someone who looks like him? This mysterious ability of Sharma’s, to score a double hundred just as easily as a duck, became his defining quality for me. I approached each of his outings like I would a blind date — with equal parts apprehension and skepticism. This way, I could indulge in my fetish for being Rohit Sharma’s loudest armchair critic, and I would be pleasantly surprised if he actually played well.
This mysterious ability of Sharma’s, to score a double hundred just as easily as a duck, became his defining quality for me.
Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
This is why this World Cup has been so hard to watch for me. It’s been a departure from my favourite cricket-related activity: taking petty joy in being vindicated about calling Sharma a disappointment. After Munaf Patel stopped appearing in the side, Sharma was all I had left. But his performance at this World Cup has ruined all the credibility I had at my living room and watercooler punditry sessions. He’s become the first-ever player to score five hundreds in a single World Cup, he’s joined Sachin Tendulkar as the player with joint-most centuries ever at World Cups with six in total, and amassed 647 runs at the tournament, leading the pack in style.
But his performance at this World Cup has ruined all the credibility I had at my living room and watercooler punditry sessions.
Sharma shook off the haters (myself included) and brought his A-game to the World Cup. While I might be selfishly upset that he is no longer the player I loved to hate, I’m thankful that he managed to live up to his considerable potential at such an important juncture. Even for someone who has never been Team Rohit, his impressive World Cup performances are a joy to watch, completely devoid of the vagaries that plagued his batting earlier in his career. The shaky, patchy Rohit Sharma appears to have vanished, replaced by the Hitman who haunts the dreams of bowlers and fielders that drop his catch.
But even as it appears that all the teams at the tournament played their roles as expected, one player veered so far off the script that he might as well have lofted it over mid on for six.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
However, I’m still reluctant to declare myself a convert. Cricket fans are a superstitious bunch, and I’m no different. On some level, I feel like my finicky nitpicking has some cosmic connection to Sharma’s form. As long as I keep complaining, the runs keep flowing from his willow. At this point, I’m worried if I praise him sincerely, he might just revert to type and start throwing his wicket away again. And with the semi-final against New Zealand (and maybe even the final) looming, the last thing we need is the return of the old, unreliable Rohit Sharma. So if you’re watching the game and catch someone finding flaws with Sharma’s technique even as he romps to another century, cut them some slack. After all, Rohit might be like a whole new player, but old habits die hard.
Dushyant Shekhawat really likes his mustache. He grew it himself. You can find him on Twitter at @SeriousDushyant.