‘Genuine aadmi hai’. It’s an adjective that we Indians understand well, and it’s a line that sits easily on Rohit Sharma. ‘Yaaron ka yaar’ is another compliment trotted out about him by fellow cricketers. Real-life examples support the mushiness in the cricketing fraternity. He had stood up for an Indian cricketer who fell on bad times, calling him in nights, taking calls at 4 am even, counselling him back to good mental health. He even got him an IPL contract. Another cricketer who was fighting for a spot with him in the Indian middle order talks about the “genuine” warmth in the joy expressed by Sharma when the player got among runs.
Unsurprisingly, you don’t hear much grumbling about him from his colleagues. Despite failures in Tests, they would say that he didn’t get that many opportunities in a row or would come up with some excuse or other for him. So, despite a five-month break to injury, enough to shelve someone in these cut-throat times, it was not a surprise to see Sharma waltz back into cricketing world as if he had never been away.
There are some players who are absolutely fascinating to watch in IPL. Even more than when they represent the country. Sharma is one such individual. For it’s in IPL we get to see him in a more comprehensive role than what we get otherwise: as a captain, as the most important batsman of his team, and as a leader of men off the field.
It’s one thing to be liked by fellow cricketers, and another thing altogether to lead them. Sharma has passed the captaincy test, it must be said. It’s no secret that he loved and respected the way Ricky Ponting coached the Mumbai team in the years gone by.
Sharma was moved by the professionalism, dedication and total commitment shown to the job by Ponting, and has absorbed some of it. The man-management wasn’t a problem but some of the hard-work of Ponting too had rubbed off on him. For a guy who in the earlier years used to look a bit self-absorbed on the field at times — not different from say how M Vijay can still come across — he has become more ‘alive’ as a captain.
It was a surprise that Mumbai didn’t go to him sooner for captaincy. Such were the vibes about him: just let him be, let him do his stuff with the bat. Only after Harbhajan Singh and Co. were tried, did they go to him. But he has latched on to the role, and has evolved every year.
Always in the game, as they say. He and Mahela Jayawardene, the new coach, have taken a few significant moves as well. Like dropping Harbhajan Singh in couple of matches, or moving up Keiron Pollard on occasions. Or choosing Mitch McClenaghan over Mitch Johnson on a consistent basis.
However, his selection to Champions Trophy doesn’t mean that he has had a good IPL with the bat. He was sorted out five times by leg-spinners. Googlies, sliders and what not, and he hasn’t lasted long. Imran Tahir, Rashid Khan, Samuel Badree, Amit Mishra and Rahul Tewatia have all taken him without much fuss. Bowled, lbw, caught trying to slog-sweep … nothing he has tried has worked against the leggies.
He is an interesting batsman against spin. Previously, as we have seen in couple of Tests, the vulnerability seemed off the mind, as in an itch to counterattack. It suggested an over spill of confidence. Perhaps, that was a wrong reading. Perhaps, it was because of lack of trust in defense. The suspicion has strengthened this IPL.
He has been trapped lbw, trying to nurdle a googly to the on side, the bat-face so drastically closed. Another time, he reached for a big drive but lost his stumps. Yet another occasion, the bat was facing covers, when the googly sashayed in through the backdoor. And the two attempted hits that resulted in the fourth and fifth dismissal seemed desperate.
To say the least, it’s been an interesting little tournament for him. The runs haven’t come that easily but the team-wins have poured in. For a team that used to live and die in late revivals, they have coasted through to the playoffs. For a batsman who used to turn on the run-tap at will in IPLs, it’s been bit of scarcity this season. In all likelihood, it would be another sluggish track in offing against Kolkata Knight Riders, not a pitch that suits Sharma.
But can Sharma manage to pull off another special knock for his team in the tournament that means so much to him? Where he isn’t just a captain but a leader of men. Where he walks on water, almost, with the bat. Where he is at home as a cricketer.