Rohit begins to clear his debts
Less than two months ago, Rohit Sharma stood halfway between the dressing room and the pitch at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo after being dismissed leg-before, hoping the third umpire would find that Nuwan Pradeep had overstepped. When the on-field umpire raised the finger a second time, Rohit closed his eyes in anguish and turned back, his languid gait reduced to a heavy-hearted plod, knowing he had heaped more pressure on himself after his fourth successive single-digit score.
On Tuesday, after successive scores of 37 and 56 in the World Twenty20 warm-up games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Rohit walked calmly into the media-briefing room at the same Premadasa and fielded questions confidently.
He began by thanking the team management for backing him throughout his unproductive run: "Talking about the past Sri Lanka tour, it was frustrating. I was not in great form but everyone showed faith in me, which is very encouraging. I have certainly worked hard on my batting and my fitness as well, so I think it is showing."
The management had gone out of their way to support someone who has been the future of Indian batting for five years now. With calls for dropping Rohit getting shriller after every failure of his, they ended the debate for the moment by leaving out legspinner Rahul Sharma to give the long-benched Manoj Tiwary a few games. But Rohit's woes worsened as he ended the tour with a miserable run of 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4.
Towards the end of the trip, you could see what a toll it was taking on him. Having the management's faith is fine, but that's also like a loan until you repay it with runs. Rohit's drooped shoulders carried themselves even into football games during practice. He would trudge around in the team hotel with the lack of runs clearly evident in his morose expression. It wasn't as if he had embraced sadness. He was making an effort to enjoy the football games, he was making an effort to smile at acquaintances, but the load of non-performance, it appeared, was becoming too heavy to bear.
Rohit probably needed to be away from a match situation for some time, because it appeared as if he was just trying to somehow not get dismissed. "After the Sri Lanka tour, I got 20-25 days and I made full use of it," Rohit said. "I was practicing at BKC indoors [at the Mumbai Cricket Association's academy] and I also went to the National Cricket Academy for a while. The hard work never stops. Whether you are in-form or not in-form you just have to keep working hard, which I have been doing."
The Sri Lanka tour cost Rohit his place in the Test squad against New Zealand. He was selected for the World Twenty20 but there was little chance he was going to be an asset with his form and mindset at that time. Rohit needed runs, but he didn't get a chance to bat much in the T20Is against Sri Lanka in August and New Zealand in September.
Had he failed in the warm-up matches as well and still kept his place in the XI against Afghanistan, the team management's confidence in him would have started to resemble blind faith. Fortunately for them, and Rohit, he managed to take advantage of the relatively pressure-free environment of the warm-ups to make two decent scores, his 37 against Sri Lanka coming after India were reduced to 51 for 4. Against Pakistan, with the in-form Virat Kohli charging out almost every ball to the spinners, Rohit did well not to follow his partner's approach, and waited in the crease for loose deliveries. He still finished on 56 at a strike-rate of 140.
Rohit acknowledged the importance of the two matches. "These two warm-up games, I wanted to make full use of because getting into a tournament with bad form is not a good way to go into a tournament. Even in Chennai [where] we played against New Zealand, I didn't get to bat. So these two warm-up games were very important from a personal point of view and I am glad I made full use of it.
"I don't want to lose this form. I just want to bat. I don't want to take [on] any pressure also because I just want to keep myself calm, free and composed."
Rohit's remarks showed his relief and also the apprehension that any additional strain and this overdue arrival of runs could prove to be temporary. His mindset still appears to be a bit fragile.
MS Dhoni was also asked whether he had felt relieved after Rohit got some runs, considering the extent to which he had backed his young batsman.
"If you see his Twenty20 record, he has batted well, in the IPL and in the last World Twenty20 as well," Dhoni said. "He is someone who can score big but he needs to give himself a bit more time. I felt in the two practice games he took a bit of time to get in and then played the big shots. We all know once he gets in he is someone who has the ability to play all kinds of shots and can hit all around the park." Dhoni will be hoping Rohit uses this edition of the World Twenty20 to repay the team management's loan of unflinching faith.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo