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HomeSPORTSAt WTC, India needs Rohit Sharma the Mumbai Indians captain

At WTC, India needs Rohit Sharma the Mumbai Indians captain


“Yaar … field-setting toh dekh le.” That Rohit Sharma cry of frustration from one of the IPL games that summed up the season where he did his best to get the most out of an inexperienced bowling attack.

Watching Rohit marshal Mumbai Indians from mid-wicket should have been a ticketed event. Jio Cinema’s Bird Eye camera, which prowled the arena like a drone, captured him baring his soul more than ever in the past. Saddled with a weak bowling unit that seemed bereft of experience and skill, Rohit was severely stretched.

He tried to dig deep to infuse some ideas; at times sighed and sunk his head to his knees. Often he would turn away from the bowler, peer into the distance and scratch his ever-present 7-day stubble. But Rohit never gave up, he would shrug himself out of that worry-reverie and walk to the bowler with an advice and suggestion. It made for riveting TV. It also opened a portal into what was probably one of his toughest captaincy stints, especially when combined with his poor batting outings.

As he leads India’s campaign in the World Test Championship, and beyond that in the ODI World Cup, he is on to extremely vital days of his captaincy. Things are rather delicately placed. A bad WTC final could tilt the cart against him and escalate the pressure stakes on the ODI World Cup. For nothing is what it seems in the Indian cricket world, a cliche that stays forever fresh, and as tough it might be for some to imagine that he is under pressure as a captain, the truth is that he is.

And more than him, Rahul Dravid as the coach is probably in hot waters already. Rohit’s fortunes are understandably, even if harshly, tied with Dravid’s yoke. If they lose the plot in the coming months, whispers would get louder against one, probably both. As the team management, Rohit and Dravid will be seen as a unit; or will the powers take a side?

IPL Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma after winning the IPL 2023 cricket match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Sunday, May 21, 2023. Mumbai won by 8 wickets. (PTI Photo)

When he took over as India captain with Dravid as coach, it was expected he would do what he has done with Mumbai Indians: get the team selections spot on, inject confidence in youngsters, erase insecurity among new players and more so, in the old like Rahane and Pujara, have a vision about playing style.

Surprisingly, the team selections leading up to the T20 World Cup weren’t precise. Kohli’s spark of genius for two balls from Pakistan pacer Haris Rauf triggered a nationalistic outpour of hope but it was a jaded campaign. The problems were plenty. There was a sameness at the top of the batting order, the inexplicable faith in death-over specialist Harshal Patel in alien conditions, the lack of trust in Mohammad Shami, injury to Jasprit Bumrah, the failure to replace Axar Patel with the attacking gamble of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, the inability to find clarity of role for Rishabh Pant.

Not many “risks’ were taken by this team management. It was couched as ‘consistency’ in team selection but that’s just flimsy dressing. For a while they had Deepak Hooda floating at top, and when he hit a hundred, they pushed him down.

Exit neon lights were flashing on the fate of Pujara and Rahane before the board and the selectors stepped in. First Pujara got a lease of life, then Rahane now. Pujara has made a career out of shutting out insecurity over his place, strike rates, and focusing on delivering results. Rahane hasn’t quite managed it the way Pujara has but not many can. In most neutral observers’s eyes, Wriddhiman Saha would have easily walked in for the WTC as the second wicketkeeper but the door was so firmly shut on him in that past that even the outside powers didn’t want to prise it open.

How much of all this is due to Dravid, how much is it down to Rohit – the world might not know as in the perception battle they are an hyphenated pair.

MI tougher to manage than CSK

Rohit led the team to a memorable, but hardly surprising, triumph against Australia on home pitches. Then, the IPL happened.

As patchy his batting form was, and weak his bowling attack was, yet again Rohit the IPL captain came to the fore. To drag this team to the qualifiers was an achievement. Much has been said about Chennai Super Kings’s great management of the resources and it obviously was, but it was a vastly better team than Mumbai.

The wondrous MS Dhoni coaxed great performances out of them but they had the necessary skillsets for him to do what he does. Pacer Tushar Deshpande could swing the ball really well, the slinger Matheesha Pathirana was raw but uniquely potent and so on and so forth. Rohit had men who were nowhere near that kind of potential and skill and it reflected in the runs conceded. But he managed to hold his head, and hold the team above water.

The writer Adam Gopnik once observed: “The experience of a charismatic mentor changes us … from citizens to subjects, people who, for a little while, have the illusion of themselves as privileged, members of the court.” At this stage in his life, Dhoni had that effect on his young team-mates, who were moved to express themselves in the shadow of their charismatic leader.

Rohit is at that stage in his captaincy career where he comes across as thoughtful, conscientious, aware of what a leader can do, responsive to the needs of youngsters, plans with perspicacity, a firm believer of preparation and yet trusts his instincts on the field. It’s time that the vision he shows in IPL needs to be mirrored with India, the dare he shows in IPL needs to be followed with calculated risks with India – does he have the sense of ownership he shows with Mumbai Indians with India? Here is where Dravid needs to facilitate him and allow him that space.

Rohit Sharma WTC Final training Rohit Sharma during the Team India training session at the Arundel Castle Cricket Club on Tuesday. (BCCI/Twitter)

His on-field strategising has always been pretty good. Four years back, when he won his fourth IPL crown in the seventh year of his captaincy, Rohit had carefully planned the downfall of Andre Russell. “No one had tried bowling short at his body from round the wicket to him … Lasith Malinga never goes round the wicket but when he does, his hand comes from outside the pitch,” Rohit shared with Mumbai Mirror. “We thought about all this.” He coaxed Malinga out of his comfort zone and the tactic worked. For a game against CSK, he played the off-spinner Jayant Yadav just for Suresh Raina. He was ready for it even if it was just one over. Rohit the IPL captain takes such calculated risks.

It was Ricky Ponting who seeded him in the need to plan in 2013 with Mumbai Indians. Rohit has shared how Ponting would tell him ‘this is what I did, it worked for me, you try or if you want to do something else, we can do that’. “I realised that it helps my game too. My batting was improving. It wasn’t just helping the bowlers but for me it was about understanding the game. I have learnt so much about game from planning. It has helped my game immensely.”

He sweats a lot in the pre-game planning of this sort, but the decision to give overs to bowlers is instinctive on the field. The flow of the game decides it for him. In this IPL, he tried his best to stem the run flow, often giving his bowlers just one over, rotating them around, trying his best to present a challenge. In the end, given the constraints, it was a creditable finish. He has to replicate that for India.

Even his batting was dictated by Rohit the captain, though it could be argued if it was sensible. Aware that his team had the hitters down the order and in form, he almost obsessively tried to set an example at the top by going all-out aggressive. His frequent charges down the tracks to seamers were unwise and inefficient, but he didn’t change his approach. The wager here is that if he wasn’t the captain, he would have batted differently. As things stand, India don’t need Rohit the T20 batsman anyway, and nothing in the IPL suggested his batting has gone so pear-shaped that it would affect his Test batting. It won’t.

Australia, then, at the WTC is an opportunity for Rohit. It will come down to how he sees it first internally. With Mumbai Indians, his captaincy has flowered as he has never approached it from a place of pressure. He never had to as the results have continuously been positive. With India, now, he comes from a different place. He isn’t as firmly perched in his saddle as it is when he plays for the franchise. India needs Rohit to replicate his IPL captaincy; so does he.



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