During the Indian summer of 1999, when Rohit Sharma, the bowler, met Dinesh Lad, his childhood coach, he was advised to give his batting more attention. Rohit did just that, and became the best batsman in Bombay cricketing circle of his time.
In 2013, midway through the IPL, the Mumbai Indians' management asked him to become the captain, and he became the captain. He clinched the trophy that year and went on to win three more.
The same year before ICC Champions Trophy, MS Dhoni asked him to open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan in ODIs. He said yes. He has smashed 25 ODI centuries since then. He has 27 in total and just to stay informed, he made his ODI debut in 2007.
At every juncture of his life, there was a moment, a decision which made him a better version of himself. He found his calling, one way or another. Many a times, these decisions were taken by others. Rohit just followed the path, putting his trust in those people, be it his childhood coach or the then Indian captain. He was ready to do anything which made him a better cricketer.
From being a great talent, to being compared with two-minute Maggi noodles, to becoming a good ODI option and then a solid opener, Rohit eventually became one of the best ODI batsmen in modern day cricket. He expressed how gutted he felt when he was not picked in the India squad for 2011 World Cup, even asking for views from his fans on his non-selection on Twitter back then. When MS Dhoni lifted the cup, he wanted to be there on the dais posing with the trophy. He was quite realistic in the media about why he was not there. When he was dropped from the squad for the England Tests in 2018, he wrote that 'Sun will rise again tomorrow'.
Rohit has been a realist all through his career, realising his shortcomings and coming on top of them every time and at the same time not ignoring the abundance of talent he carried. His success as a captain, in IPL and in whatever games he has led India in, has a lot to do with him being open to ideas. If he thought that despite doing well in international cricket as an opener, he was required to bat at No 4 for Mumbai Indians, he did that.
In the 2019 edition, Rohit moved to the top of the line-up, because he felt that the middle order was more experienced. He also wanted to prepare for World Cup. However, IPL 2019 did not go as well as he would have expected it to, as he failed to convert a lot of the good starts he made. Yuvraj Singh, who was his teammate, later revealed how stressful it was for Rohit to underperform in the tournament. Yuvraj told him to not take undue pressure, since he did not know what lay ahead.
Rohit has also been a dreamer, like any other athlete. Like any cricketer, he dreamt of succeeding in Tests, a format where he has not done as well as he wanted to. In the UK, awaited his biggest dream of all — a World cup medal — and he did not want this golden chance extinguished. He is 32 and by the time 2023 comes, he will be 36. While he is expected to play the next edition of the World Cup, he would not have wanted to delay that moment of glory any further. Not to forget that he was very near to the World Cup medal in 2015, when the wait was prolonged after India went down to Australia in semis. There was this big dream he wanted to turn into a reality and he landed in the United Kingdom with it to play the World Cup.
On 5 June, he began his bid to end the wait and started a dream run. He batted and batted and batted, and eventually accumulated 647 runs, taking his team to the semis. What Yuvraj had said was coming true. It appeared as if this was the year of Rohit Sharma. IPL trophy. 5 World Cup tons, a world record. And the chance to surpass his batting idol as the highest run-getter in the history of the tournament.
And then came that Matt Henry delivery. Rohit would have been pretty confident of inching one more step closer to the trophy. Luck had favoured him throughout the cup, he was reaping dividends on his hard work. Yuvraj Singh had predicted he would win the Player of the Series award during the IPL. Five centuries in a single edition of a World Cup should be enough to get him that. But Rohit was not there to win that award alone. After every century scored in tournament, he repeated that he wants to win the Cup. That he was there to win the cup and not achieve personal milestones. Kohli had said on the eve of the semi-finals that he would love to see Rohit get two more hundreds.
There may have been more than a million thoughts echoed inside Rohit the moment Henry's delivery pitched on good length and swung away. The noise from the stadium must have melted away the second the sound of the edge of his bat entered his ear. Is it taken? Yes, it is taken. Tom Latham is celebrating. All of the Black Caps are celebrating. They have removed India's best batter of the tournament in the most important match so far.
Rohit walked back and it did not take long for others to follow suit. India were soon 5 for 3, reeling to stay afloat in the chase. From this point, the Indian dressing room quickly transformed into a tragic sight. Suddenly Rohit felt like a writer who could not find a great ending to his novel. A pianist struggling to find a missing tune. His emotions inside the dressing room reflected his hopes, his dreams and his helplessness, in equal measure.
He was not alone. Emotion had gripped everyone there. Sadness loomed overhead like a dark cloud, with India stuttering at the start. Whenever a partnership was formed, smiles returned and whenever a wicket fell, the faces became pale and dry. It was as if it wasn't a cricket match being played, but a Shakespearean drama being enacted instead, where you sail through a plethora of emotions.
If this was actually a play then Rohit Sharma was the protagonist for sure. He was animated one minute, numb the next. He was drama within a drama. Everybody wanted to win this match, but Rohit's desperation was a little more. He wanted the final berth even more. When Hardik Pandya miscued a shot and got caught, Rohit leaned forward on the window inside the dressing room, his face almost pressed against the glass pane as he bit his lip. It appeared as if there was lump in his throat and he may shed tears anytime soon. Whenever Rohit was on camera in this World Cup, he was a sight to behold. The cuts, the pulls. Everything was so beautiful. But this was a different, more forlorn Rohit Sharma. Someone whose dream was crashing down in front of his eyes. Someone who had no say over the proceedings.
When Jadeja started hitting boundaries and took India closer and closer, he started advising the all-rounder to stay focussed, making gestures that he had it in him to win this match.
This was a desperate man who wanted some sort of miracle. A piece of Jadeja magic or a Dhoni miracle to take them out of this disaster. He must have told himself a million times, he would not let this happen again. Let's reach the final, somehow, he must have thought. By this time, as Jadeja and Dhoni continued to stem a stand, he had become a conductor of an orchestra, trying to control things from the dressing room.
Alas, soon the symphony went awry with the fall of Jadeja. Dhoni's run-out meant that destiny had turned its back on the Indian team. That there would be no further music from hereon. A period of silence would take over for a while. Rohit was nowhere to be seen in the dressing room. Everyone had begun to deal with the failure.
The emotions of Rohit in the dressing room when Indian batsman was going back after playing poor shots or when Jadeja and Dhoni was scoring runs, these were just unforgettable moments. pic.twitter.com/hk2fw0qxWO
— Johns (@CricCrazyJohns) July 11, 2019
And now, four days after the end of the dream, we wonder what to do with these 5 tons — 122 not-out versus South Africa, 140 versus Pakistan, 102 versus England, 104 versus Bangladesh, 103 vs Sri Lanka. These are memorable knocks, and in every World Cup from hence, broadcasters will play them again and again to show the class of Rohit Sharma. If these were scored in a tri-series or a bilateral series, they may have helped India win it. Had they been scored when Rohit began his career, they could have helped him gain confidence and assured him of a long run. But now, despite being such heavy scores, they are falling short in the face of the legacy of a Dhoni 91 not-out or a Gautam Gambhir 97 in a World Cup final. Sachin Tendulkar's scratchy 85 at Mohali in 2011 World Cup seems to outweigh these 5 tons. Rohit's five centuries may live long but the one run scored in the semi-finals may remain with us and him for the longest time, at least for as long as the next 2023 World Cup, if he plays it and if India wins it. Till then, that solitary run's burden will be tough to carry.
Hopefully, Rohit knows how to deal with this prolonged frustration. Perchance he is looking at these tons to reflect upon the cricketer in him who displayed class, maturity, experience and leadership in the tournament that mattered. Yet he knows that he and the team failed when it mattered the most. The good thing is that Rohit is still a realist. He was the only one in the squad who used the term 'failed' in the message to fans on social media. He has failed enough in his life to know what it means to fail. He has lived with its burden before. And he will know that he has come back stronger every time. For now, his struggle for the World Cup medal continues.