Two Thursdays ago, Rohit Sharma sought out Sandeep Patil, the chairman of selectors, with a request. ‘Please let me play for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy or at least in the Kanga League’. Earlier that day, the right-hander had announced his return to competitive cricket with a sparkling 142 against the touring Sri Lankans in a practice-match at the CCI. But even the century had done little to settle the burgeoning anxiety and uncertainty that had besieged Rohit following the two months he had spent recovering from the finger surgery.
Patil had turned Rohit down on both counts, insisting that there was no need for him to risk his finger and that he would be fine to take his place for the fourth ODI in Kolkata. Patil was to be proved right. And how. On Thursday at the Eden Gardens, Rohit broke the world record for the highest individual ODI score with a 173-ball 264 against a hapless Lankan attack.
Just three weeks ago, however, when he spoke to The Indian Express, Rohit was a bundle of nerves. He had concluded a rigorous training session at the MCA facility in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), where he had spent close to a couple of hours in the nets.
“Even right now while batting, I feel my hands coming off the bat,” he had lamented then, before showing an X-ray of the middle-finger on his right hand-the one he had broken at Cardiff back in August-on his phone. In the conversation that lasted close to an hour, Rohit must have brought up his recuperating finger and the resulting loss in confidence around a dozen times. He spoke about struggling to grip the bat, and also about realising that a metal pin had been inserted in his finger to keep it in one piece.
The ODI team for the first three matches against Sri Lanka had been announced. Rohit wasn’t part of it but had been included in the India A squad to face the tourists at CCI. But in Rohit’s opinion he wasn’t completely ready yet. He wasn’t feeling like himself still.
Rohit had hurt his finger while attempting a catch after scoring a half-century at Sophia Gardens, bringing an end to an otherwise forgettable tour. With his previous tour to England too having been cut short by a finger injury courtesy a bouncer from Stuart Broad, an aghast Rohit had taken to Twitter to express his dismay. “England why must you take it out on my fingers,” he had tweeted.
Jarring fingers aside, Rohit was also uncertain about regaining his place at the top of the order. In his absence, Ajinkya Rahane had taken over his spot and scored two centuries in addition to forming a steady combination with Shikhar Dhawan in England and in the home series that followed.
After undergoing the post-surgery rehab, Rohit began attending the Mumbai nets to ensure that he was facing quality bowlers. It wasn’t easy. At times, he had to back off and not be over-bearing on the rest of his teammates as they shook off the rut and got into shape for the upcoming domestic season. Rohit even managed to slip in a trip to Swamimalai, the temple atop a hill near Kumbakonam district in Tamil Nadu, to appease his mother, who had been asking him to visit the family deity.
Soon the Mumbai team was invited for the SK Acharya Memorial Trophy-a tournament designed to felicitate the 150th year of the CAB. Rohit was not just keen to be part of the squad. He was desperate.
“I still need a couple of proper batting sessions. I want to have one match before CCI,” he had said. And when it came to playing his characteristically free-flowing strokes, Rohit had sounded even more apprehensive.
“I can’t play all my shots. I’m not confident. I’ll get out. Or I’ll hit it straight up in the air, or I’ll miss the ball,” he had said. As it turned out, he didn’t miss many and most of those that he did hit either crashed into the boundary fences around Eden Gardens or soared into the Kolkata night sky as Rohit single-handedly out-scored Sri Lanka.