The last movie India’s Rohit Sharma saw was the final installment of Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy — Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Why is that relevant here? It’s not as if he will assist the heroic Autobots in their battle against the Decepticons any time soon.
What is to be noted is that the 24-year-old is undergoing a transformation of his own.
It’s been almost four years since he broke into the squad as a baby-faced 20-year-old in the inaugural World Twenty20 triumph in South Africa, over three since he wowed against a formidable Australia in the Commomnwealth Bank series, over twelve months since his back-to-back ODI tons in Zimbabwe.
Yet, in between those knocks of brilliantly effortless ease, he has often been shrouded in a cloak of indolence. The ODI series in West Indies, where the Nagpur-born batsman was named the man of the series for a couple of resilient knocks that steered India home in crunch situations, could be termed a turning point, at least the elegant batsman hopes so.
“In the past I’ve made mistakes, let my head and the situation get the better of me. I have had a steep learning curve. I was a senior batsman on the West Indies tour. I knew I had added responsibility. The difficult part was getting your mind to focus and adjust according to the situation of the match,” he tells Hindustan Times in a candid chat.
The talented Mr Sharma
Adjust he did. He persevered, something that hasn’t really been his forte.
When discussing Sharma, him of the textbook technique and elegance reminiscent of a young VVS Laxman, the word talent is thrown around as often as the word lazy. Something he doesn’t really buy. “What is talent? I’ve been hearing people say I’ve got talent, but at the end of the day the only thing that counts are the runs against your name on the scoreboard. The people who say I’ve got talent when I’m scoring are the same ones who criticise me when I fail with the bat,” he asserts.
He doesn’t want to keep his contribution limited to the runs off his blade.
“In the coming months I want to contribute to the team’s cause. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get runs every single time. Even when I don’t get a big score I want to earn my stripes on the field. I’ve been working very hard on my fitness and fielding drills. Saving 20-30 runs on the field, or taking a match-winning catch, or rolling one’s arm over to break a partnership, is as much of a game-changer as what one does with the bat,” he says.
A man apart
But what has been at the core of this transformation? “Three years ago, when Gary Kirsten was appointed coach he held a meeting with the players in the ODI team. He had formulated a plan that would culminate in India winning the ODI World Cup. There was a great belief that I would be part of this, when I wasn’t picked I was disappointed,” he says, with regret in his voice.
It’s the last word he says that’s important here. Indian cricketers aren’t the most verbose bunch. The disappointment he is talking about here isn’t of your usual honey-I-didn’t-get-the-raise-I-deserve kind.
What he’s talking about is much darker, agony would be a more apt way of putting it. As he sees it, success can only teach one so much. Agony, on the other hand, steels one for the future. “I’ve used that disappointment as an opportunity to prepare better for challenges ahead,” is all he says, not wanting to relive the testing period.
The ultimate test
But, why has one with his painfully obvious skill not made it to the Test team yet? Some have blamed the lack of hunger, some the mental setup, some the attitude.
Ask him why he hasn’t yet broken into the Test side, even when younger guys like Virat Kohli and Abhinav Mukund have, and in some respects, even been found wanting, and he plays it cool. “For any cricketer playing Tests is the ultimate ambition, but I’m not in a hurry. When I make my debut I want to be there for the long haul. Once I’m in, I want to stay in.” Best of the lot
The day is nearer than most think. After an unbeaten 86 to guide India home against the Windies in Antigua, new coach Duncan Fletcher gave him a thumbs up. “Duncan is new and on the WI tour he was reserved for the most. There were a few new players whom he’d never even heard of, so he was just observing all the players. He was still finding his way. After that innings, however, he came up to me and said, ‘That was a very responsible innings, I can’t believe you’re not in the Test squad’,” he informs.
In the past, Rohit has been known to enjoy the high life, a reputation no doubt burgeoned by Herschelle Gibbs’s comments in his autobiography – To The Point. Marking him out as one of the few Indian cricketers who can hold their drink, Gibbs wrote he “can put a couple away when he puts his mind to it”. In Gibbsspeak (not to be confused with Afrikaans) that means he knows his Johnnie Walkers from his Jim Beams.
All that’s a thing of the past, though. “I don’t even go clubbing now. Things always have a knack of getting blown out of proportion,” he grumbles.
In all his years hitting the clubs, his boy-next-door looks would surely have earned him a fair share of female attention? “I don’t want to answer that,” he says, glint in eye, eye on voice recorder. Clearly, he knows something we all don’t.