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Cricketers of the year

Rohit Sharma

Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2022: Rohit Sharma

Anand Vasu
Rohit Sharma bursts into laughter, India vs Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Bengaluru, 1st day, March 12, 2022

Rohit Sharma bursts into laughter  •  BCCI

A man who has every shot in the book, and plays three - pull, cover-drive, back-foot punch - to perfection, put them away last summer in single-minded pursuit of one of Test cricket's toughest challenges: opening the batting in England, a job he had never done.
The results were a triumph. In four matches, Rohit Sharma faced 866 balls, scored 368 runs at 52, and helped India to a 2-1 lead before the Covid-related postponement of the final game. He had set the scene in the Second Test at Lord's, where he batted beautifully for more than three hours to make 83 in an opening stand of 126 with K. L. Rahul. But his defining hand came in the second innings of the Fourth at The Oval. India, who had just been thrashed at Headingley to make it 1-1, had conceded a first-innings lead of 99, but Rohit refused to buckle, facing 256 balls for 127. Set 368, England got nowhere near.
His consistency was all the more remarkable because his record had been skewed so heavily towards performances at home. He had begun in November 2013 with 177 and 111 not out from No. 6 against a weak West Indies - Sachin Tendulkar's final series. He then went 19 Tests and four years without another century, even as his limited-overs stock rose, both at international level and in the IPL with the all-powerful Mumbai Indians, whom he led to all five of their titles.
In Tests, though, he was often the subject of cruel memes, some dubbing him "No-hit". But when he turned himself into a Test opener for the visit of South Africa in October 2019, his fortunes rocketed: he made 176, 127 and 212.
Late last year, he replaced Virat Kohli as India's white-ball captain, recognition not just of his success in 50- and 20-over cricket - he holds the world record for the highest score in one-day internationals (264), and has three of the format's eight double-centuries - but also a hat-tip to his reading of the game and management of players.
In February 2022, his ascendancy was complete, when he was appointed Test captain. Throughout, a question remained: could he replicate his home Test numbers in overseas conditions? England, with its early swing and seam, presented a particular challenge. But Rohit had his eye on the ball. "I've always thought about how I can be effective and produce results, rather than whether I can establish myself in the team," he says. "That thought I left behind a long time ago. If I think about establishing myself, that is an additional pressure."
He puts his performance in England down to preparation. "Luckily, we had about 25 days to get ready after the World Test Championship. I focused on what I would be facing from Anderson and Broad. I wanted to prepare very specifically. I never thought about what would happen after 20 overs: my first goal was to bat 20 overs. I asked the throwdown guys to bowl up to me, swing the ball away from me in front of my pads, and occasionally bring it in."
The Indian team had for a while travelled with at least two throwdown specialists: Raghavindraa, a right-hander, and Nuwan Seneviratne, a left-hander. Rohit used them extensively. "What I've seen in England is that people get out more to the fuller ball than the short ball or back of a length. My front_foot defence would be challenged."
He knuckled down, looking at the clock not the scoreboard. "I wanted to play time, bat as long as possible, and get the bowlers tired. The trick is to be there when they are in their third spell, when they will give you balls you can pounce on. The first two spells are for them, and in the third I will take my chances."
This was not an easy adjustment, but Rohit says it is one for which all senior players should be ready. Working out the opposition bowlers' plans was crucial. "I know, with the ability I have, I can get runs, but I never felt at any stage that I needed to score more quickly. In England, bowlers think: 'Just bowl maidens, frustrate the batsman, force a mistake.' So I wanted to think alike, and transfer the pressure back on to them."
It was not only in England that Rohit tormented them. When Joe Root's side toured India earlier in the year, and won the First Test in Chennai, they were served up a rank turner in the Second. Batsmen on both teams struggled to survive, but Rohit batted as though on another surface, making 161 off 231 balls in India's first-innings 329. "Scoring runs on that pitch was tough," he says. "In the last few years, conditions in India have been extreme. It's often more challenging to play there than abroad."
ROHIT GURUNATH SHARMA was born on April 30, 1987, in Bansod, near the central Indian city of Nagpur. He spent his infancy in Dombivli, an eastern suburb of Mumbai. The first child of Gurunath, who did odd jobs, and Purnima, a home-maker, Rohit spent much of his childhood with his grandparents and uncle in Borivali, a western suburb of the city, and occasional weekends with his parents. He has a younger brother, Vishal, who did not follow him into cricket.
Aged 12, he was playing in a summer-camp tournament, where his team were thrashed by Swami Vivekanand International School. But Dinesh Lad, Swami's coach, saw something in Rohit - who had been bowling off-spin - and asked him to report for trials. When he did, accompanied by his uncle Ravi, they were dismayed to learn that the monthly fee was Rs275, which they could not afford. But Lad prevailed upon a trustee to waive the charge, allowing Rohit to enrol in an institution that took cricket seriously.
Even then, he continued mainly to bowl spin, and when Lad, some months later, saw an unusually correct batsman knocking up in the outfield, he wondered who the kid was. He was taken aback; young Rohit had been too modest to tell his coach that he batted, as well.
He first played for India Under-19 at the age of 17, and for Mumbai at 19. His ODI debut, at Belfast of all places, followed soon after. But then came a long wait before his first Test cap: six years, encompassing 108 one-day and 36 T20 internationals, still a record for someone who has gone on to play Test cricket. From shy kid in Mumbai to elder statesman in England, Rohit's throwdown story had come full circle.