Rohit Sharma: The ODI cricket phenomenon
Rohit Sharma, who is casually referred to as the Borivali Bradman, is churning out truly Bradmanesque numbers at the World Cup.
And so it finally came to pass. India will take on New Zealand — the only team they did not face in the group phase of the 2019 World Cup — in the semifinal, while old foes England and Australia will do battle for the second spot in the final.
At the start of the competition, if you told Virat Kohli that his team would win seven of eight matches they played and top the group, he might’ve thought you were just being a cheerleader. But even as respect for this team has grown, remember they lost an opener who is a gun batsman in global competitions, an allrounder and had an injury to their first-choice new ball partner to Jasprit Bumrah, the adulation for another man has gone through the roof.
Rohit Sharma, who racked up his fifth century of the tournament — and to put this in perspective the great Sachin Tendulkar managed six hundreds from six whole World Cup editions — has a No. 1 fan in Kohli. The manner in which Kohli has placed the destructive opener at the top of the order has grown steadily in the course of the tournament.
“I have been watching it for years now, I have been saying it publicly, in my opinion Rohit is the best one-day player. When he plays, we are heading towards a big score and really happy with the way he’s playing,” said Kohli only days ago. “When he plays well we know we are heading for a big score. He gives everyone confidence to go out and bat.”
But, if Kohli has benefited from the starts that Rohit has provided, with astounding consistency, another man who owes a lot to the star is KL Rahul, who began his World Cup at No. 4 and then was forced up the order when Shikhar Dhawan was injured. “You would be a fool to be tempted to bat like Rohit because he is in a different class. He is on a different planet altogether when he gets going,” said Rahul, who scored his maiden World Cup century, and his second overall, in India’s match against Sri Lanka. “We expect it from him and he is delivering every time. To bat with him is really easy because he takes the pressure off you. He keeps getting the boundaries and the scoreboard keeps ticking, I just have to keep there with him. It is great fun.”
If Rohit is scoring runs for fun now, it was not always so. In the lead-up to the World Cup, when he was getting starts in the IPL but not converting them into big scores, he had a chat with Yuvraj Singh, who Rohit refers to as a “big brother” and that’s hardly surprising with the two having played so much together, and living literally one big six away from each other in Mumbai.
“We always talk about the game, about life. He said to me: when it matters you will do it. I guess probably he was talking about the World Cup,” said Rohit after his fifth century. “He was in a similar phase in 2011 before the World Cup, was not getting enough runs. So what he told me to just be in good space. And that’s what he did, that’s why he was so successful at that World Cup.”
But, Rohit is not merely in just a “good” space, and nor is this World Cup a flash in the pan. In the history of the World Cup, no batsman has averaged more than Rohit’s current 68.78 (minimum 15 innings played) and the next best is considerably lower, AB de Villiers, at 63.52. The greatest of them all, Sir Viv Richards averaged 63.31 over 31 innings.
As a measure of just how well Rohit has done in the build up to the World Cup, IPL performance notwithstanding, savour this fact: In the last 365 days, Rohit has scored 2,063 runs in 34 innings with 10 centuries. And, wait for it, no batsman in the history of the game has scored 10 ODI hundreds in a 365-day chunk.
Or, to put it another way, in the 142-year history of cricket, only one player has scored five centuries in a single tournament or series. That was Sir Clyde Walcott in the 1955 Test series against Australia.
Rohit, who has been casually referred to as the Borivali Bradman — mostly in jest by well-wishers pulling his leg — is becoming truly Bradmanesque when it comes to the numbers in 50-over cricket. Now, at least one more opportunity beckons. And Rohit knows that his team needs him more than ever.