‘We need to fill a lot of spots,’ Rohit Sharma on India’s T20 World Cup squad
India limited overs vice captain Rohit Sharma opens un on the upcoming series against Australia, New Zealand tour and India’s preparations for T20 World Cup in Australia.Updated: Jan 09, 2020 11:14 IST
When in flow, Rohit Sharma can make batting look ridiculously easy. In 2019, it made a prettier picture—2,442 runs across three formats in international cricket, including five hundreds at the World Cup.
In a dream season, the most important for the stylish batsman was establishing himself in Tests after being promoted to open in a final bid to tap into his talent after earlier disappointments in the middle-order. That hardly seemed likely when he didn’t get to play in the West Indies series, despite his World Cup heroics.
“For me personally, it was a good one. The big positive was opening the batting in Test cricket,” Sharma said in an interview. “I was not worried about scoring runs, only about getting that opportunity. And whatever happens with that opportunity, I wanted to take that in a positive way and stay in the right frame of mind.”
It wasn’t easy for the India team management to keep an in-form Sharma out of the Test team, and they took the gamble of asking him to open. The result: 556 runs in five Tests at an average of 92.7.
The key to Sharma’s effortless batting—flick off the hip for six high into the stands or on-the-rise hit over long-off—lies in his mind. It’s all due to his temperament, he says. “If you are cool, calm and composed, the performance will come. That is what I was trying to do before the South Africa Test series and it helped me a great deal. Staying that way helps me. I try and do that every time.”
To understand what he means, one should watch his face during the match-winning hundred against Pakistan in the World Cup at Manchester. He looks cut off from everything happening around him. It is simply about seeing and playing the ball, not about his reputation or that of the opponent.
“I know it is a World Cup game, a game against Pakistan, a high pressure game and all that. But for me nothing changes, every game remains the same—whether I play the top team or the lower, bottom team. For me it is just about going out there and making hundreds, scoring runs and performing for my team… the opposition team doesn’t matter. I try and stay calm against all opposition. It helps me make good decisions. It allows me to perform, do what I want to do.”
He trusts his methods and will stick to them whether he gets success or not. “It may happen, it may not happen always. When the results are showing it is nice, and I know (even) when the results are not showing, I am not going to change my style. I want to remain the same.”
Last year hadn’t begun smoothly as batting rhythm was missing in IPL. Sharma though didn’t feel the pressure going into the World Cup. “For someone who has played for so long, I don’t need one rhythm. My rhythm can change anytime. It is about having a clear mindset, which I have now about what I want to go out there and achieve. One bad series or tournament, I know I can come back from that. It is very important for me to think that way so that my performance doesn’t take a big, big hit. I think very positively in all of this and try to stay positive even when things are not happening.”
Players with supreme confidence in their ability stand out. Currently, may be no one exudes that as well as NBA legend LeBron James; he sits in a media conferences like an emperor addressing commoners, merely following with the corner of his eye when a question is fired. Sharma sounds similar. Even the prospect of playing against an in-form Australia doesn’t evoke much excitement, in contrast to every player in the Australian team talking up the series against India in the next southern hemisphere summer.
AUSTRALIA FAR AWAY
Sharma, rested for the Sri Lanka T20s, has hit the nets at the Mumbai Cricket Association ground, but it’s a period to rest his mind.
“There is one year to go for the Australia Tests. (It is) better for us to go there and start thinking about it.” You have to mention about the upcoming one-day series to get him talking on the subject, “Playing Australia is always very exciting and this will also be exciting. They are a very good team, and with David Warner and Steve Smith they are a very different team.”
One role which excites him is MS Dhoni’s, how he provided back-up to skipper Virat Kohli. He loves leadership and is a natural going by the success of Mumbai Indians.
Ask about his playing a role like Dhoni did to Kohli at the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, he says: “Of course, I am always willing to help, and willing to give my inputs of what I feel about the game, about the players, about the team combination. I have been named vice-captain, so it is my duty to keep an eye on all the players, see what they are doing, what is required for the team, what is the best we can do as a team so that we can win games and tournaments.”
Sharma is not just the seniormost member of the team—India debut in 2007—he is a World Cup winner (2007 World T20), and has won the ICC Champions Trophy. He knows the missing link in this side to succeed at the next big global event—T20 World Cup.
“It is a long way from the World Cup. We are preparing for that, (and) a lot of guys are getting ready for that. (It) means there are a lot of spots we need to fill. It is a work in progress. Anyway the 15-20 guys we have are all really good and have performed really well and are very confident. It is just about doing what we need to do in Australia and then try and win that World Cup.”
NEW ZEALAND AWAITS
Although everyone hailed Sharma’s batting in the World Cup, his own disappointment was evident on his face every time the TV camera focused on India’s best batsman of the World Cup as their run-chase started to collapse in the semi-final at Old Trafford.
“It is always nice to get runs and do well for the team, but for what purpose you went there, if that is not achieved, then you are not happy. Personally I can say I batted well and all that, but we didn’t win the World Cup. That was disappointing, so the hundreds I scored will not matter so much. If with that hundred we could have won the tournament, I would have been two times happier.”
His next important assignment will be the New Zealand tour, against the side that spoiled the party of Sharma & Co at the World Cup.
“It will be a great challenge. New Zealand is a very formidable team. They play as a team, and are very good in planning and execution. That is what makes them a very dangerous team, and in their backyard they play really well. I have been there before so I know what to expect,” he says.
However, that tour will be a great opportunity to answer one big question, whether he can ace the test of an opener against the moving ball in seaming conditions. “I have been around the world enough to understand what to expect and I will first get my mindset ready and then I will start preparing once we get to New Zealand because we have a few series before that,” Sharma says.
“It is a good challenge, but I am not looking that I want to score overseas. I want to score everywhere. The bottom line is if I am playing cricket I want to score everywhere,” he says.
Left-arm pace bowlers can be awkward to face for right-handed batsmen with their ability to bring the ball in. Sharma once dismissed the threat posed by Mohammed Amir and made media headlines all over. There is needle whenever they face-off. Sharma won the last battle hands down, with an electric 140 at the World Cup.
New Zealand too bank on left-arm pacers Neil Wagner and Trent Boult to make the early inroads. Wagner has enjoyed a superb run and was the standout performer in the just-ended series in Australia. Sharma is not interested in talk about left-arm pace or Wagner.
“Not just Wagner, it is important for us to focus on all the bowlers. New Zealand have a quality bowling attack, I can’t focus on one bowler.”
The Sharma directness comes out when asked about his opinion on the talk of four-day Tests. For him a four-day game can never be a Test. “If it is a four-day, it is not a Test match. Four-day means a first-class match. It is as simple as that.”
Has he set any specific goals for 2020? “I want to keep improving as a player, as a human being.”
Where does he draw his calmness from?
“A lot of the things actually come naturally to me, staying calm and all. A little bit of meditation I do also helps. Naturally also, I am a very calm person in life. So it helps me to be that way and get results.”