Leeds, July 7: Space. It’s a word Rohit Sharma uses often. Only, to him, it isn’t a word, it’s a state of being. A state which he has carved for himself, an intangible that is working like a charm for him.
Sportspersons talk about being in a good space. About finding the happy medium when confronted with pleasure and pain, with success and failure, with joy and sorrow. About being at peace with oneself, zoning in, cutting out things that don’t matter, taking the past and the future out of the equation, staying in the present.
These are standard clichés. These are also easier said than done. How do you get into the zone? How do you insulate yourself from what’s happening around you? How can you not be affected by four centuries in your last seven innings? How do you prevent yourself from eyeing a bright tomorrow, given the riches the last few yesterdays have brought? Well, you could ask Rohit Sharma, but it’s unlikely he will let you into his world. Into his space.
This had been a spectacular World Cup already for the Indian vice-captain, who came into Saturday’s final league clash against Sri Lanka with four hundreds and 544 runs. By the time he was done laying into Lasith Malinga and Kasun Rajith, Isuru Udana, Thisara Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva, he had expanded those numbers to five hundreds and 647 runs.
No batsman had scored more than four tons in a single edition in 11 previous World Cups. That has now been pummeled into oblivion. Sachin Tendulkar’s 2003-high 673 is just five boundary hits away. Rohit’s space should take him there, all things being equal.
Rohit comes across as an individual totally at peace with himself. He isn’t just talking the talk, he is walking it too. The same calmness that accompanies him to the batting crease is his companion in everyday life; that has stemmed from growing maturity, the responsibility fatherhood brings with it, the burning ambition to help his team along on its mission to the summit, the glow that comes with knowing that he is making a good thing count.
A chat with Yuvraj Singh during IPL 2019 has played its part in his current red-hot streak. The Mumbai Indians skipper made 405 runs in 15 games, but often failed to kick on from starts. So he sought out the man who shaped India’s run to the 2011 World Cup crown.
"He's like a big brother to me, we always talk about the game, about life,” Rohit recalled. “He said, when it matters, you will do it (make big runs). I guess probably was talking about the World Cup. He was in a similar phase in 2011 before the World Cup, not getting enough runs. What he told me was to just be in good space – that's what he did, that's why he was so successful at that World Cup.”
Sanjay Bangar has worked closely with Rohit since taking over as the batting coach in 2014, and offered a peek into the mindset that is working wonders. “The secret behind his great progress is that he understands his game really well,” the former India opener observed.
“He has a template which he follows, and more often than not, it has given him success. He's worked really hard on his game; for any batsman to keep that sort of consistency going, that is credit to his determination and discipline and the efforts he's putting in. It's not only personally, but he's also helping KL Rahul along the way, giving him the space that is required.”
That word again, space. “I just wanted to be in good space before the start of the World Cup,” Rohit had reiterated, just moments earlier. “This year's World Cup was a different format, 10 games before the finals. It's a long tournament, and the conditions here really matter a lot. All those things put together, I personally wanted to be in good space, which I think I did pretty well.
“As soon as the game got over, I left everything behind and started focusing on the new day, which helped me move forward. I was thinking before the start of the tournament that I'll try and be in good space; good space is by doing so many things, that is very personal.”
There you go, he won’t say what things. But hey, so long as he keeps scoring, he can keep his secrets, right?
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)