Manchester, June 17: After Dinesh Karthik and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rohit Sharma is the senior-most member of India’s World Cup 15. In exactly a week’s time, he will slip into his 13th year in international cricket, having made his India debut on June 23, 2007 against Ireland in Belfast.
It has taken the prodigiously gifted Mumbaikar a little time to get there, but clearly, he is now one of the leaders of the side, and not necessarily because he is the designated limited-overs vice-captain and so sports the figurative skipper’s armband in Virat Kohli’s absence. Rohit has come to establish himself as a key member of the core leadership group with his pithy insights and his exceptional man-management skills, which have helped him lead Mumbai Indians to a record four titles in the Indian Premier League.
In January this year, as he was kick-starting another drive to lift his Test career to the next level, Rohit took the somewhat less charted route – for an Indian cricketer, that is – of skipping an overseas Test so that he could be with his wife for the birth of their first child. He had just made a sparkling half-century during the epochal victory in the previous Test in Melbourne, but he didn’t think twice about skipping the Sydney game to fly back to Mumbai. Today, his world revolves around that little bundle of delight who the couple have named Samaira – the Goddess of Beauty.
Samaira’s arrival has triggered a wonderful spell for the 32-year-old, whose World Cup went from very good to exceptional at Old Trafford on Sunday. Coming of scores of a match-winning unbeaten 122 against South Africa and a match-shaping 57 against Australia at The Oval, Rohit blazed to a second century in three matches, a spectacular 140 that sparked India’s seventh successive World Cup decimation of Pakistan.
The Southampton century had to be watchful and circumspect because the juiced-up surface demanded so. At Old Trafford, after a brief spell of caution, he got on the bike and sped away, making merry of the regular short offerings from Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz that brought his patented rasping cuts and upright pulls into play.
Rohit sped through the milestones with such alacrity that his new opening partner, KL Rahul, could ease back into a position he once occupied, but that has been denied him on a consistent basis because of the wonderful combination his vice-captain has struck with the injured Shikhar Dhawan.
Even though they have been India team-mates for more than four and a half years now, Rohit and Rahul had never opened in a One-Day International previously. The lack of total understanding showed every now and then in their running between the wickets – on another day, Rohit could have been dismissed when 32, again on 38. Otherwise, it was as if this was another match made in heaven as the new tandem danced to a vital 136-run tango.
Rohit loves to face the first ball of an innings. Rahul, an opener by choice, has a similar fetish, so in deference to the younger man’s desire, Rohit allowed him that luxury. After all, this was Rahul’s first outing as opener after a while, so the senior pro was willing to walk that extra mile to put his partner at ease.
“For me, it was important to give him that (first strike) because that is his comfort,” Rohit revealed later. “He is playing his first game as an opener here, so I wanted to make sure that he's comfortable.”
Rahul responded with a sparkling half-century of his own by way of thanksgiving. Partnerships aren’t just about scoring runs alongside each other, they also encompass looking out for each other and sometimes taking the higher road in the best interests of all concerned.
Clearly, fatherhood sits lightly on Rohit, who is happy with letting the world know that his little baby is his world. “It's just the space I am in right now,” he said of his tremendous World Cup run that has netted him 319 runs in just three innings, only behind Aaron Finch’s 343. “It's a very good phase in my life. Having a daughter, a newly born daughter in my life, actually has put me in a good space. I'm enjoying my cricket, coming off a great IPL campaign and then starting off well here.”
His fans and team-mates will be hoping for a grandstand finish, too.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)