Back in February 2010, 45 minutes was all that separated Rohit Sharma from making his Test debut for India against South Africa. Minutes before the toss, he twisted his ankle, meaning it was Wriddhiman Saha who instead took his place in the team. But what if Rohit hadn’t twisted his ankle that day?
We know that Rohit, at 8:45 AM in the morning on February 6, 2010, twisted his ankle playing a game of ‘rocket-ball’, which meant that it was Saha who took his place that day. The freak injury effectively pushed his Test debut back by three-and-a-half-years, as it was only on the morning of November 6, 2013 that he donned the Indian whites for the first time. But what if Rohit hadn’t twisted his damned ankle that day? Well, let’s go back in time and check it out ourselves.
We now know that a 23-year-old Rohit Sharma, who averaged a staggering 89 in preceding Ranji Trophy season, is making his much-awaited Test debut. His debut, however, gets off to the worst start possible as with South Africa on 6-2 on the morning of Day 1 on a flat Nagpur wicket, the youngster drops a dolly at first-slip. And the man he drops, Hashim Amla, goes on to score an unbeaten 253 and Rohit’s first task with the bat in international cricket is to play catch-up to a total of 558 against a South African attack comprising Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Rohit comes out to bat with the score 56-3 against a rampant Dale Steyn and after Sehwag perishes after a trademark ton, he is now helplessly left in the middle with another debutant, Subramanian Badrinath. But he, against all odds, stitches a match-saving 302-run partnership with his partner from Tamil Nadu, with both of them scoring debut tons. The two of them keep the South Africans on the field for so long that Steyn leaves the field in the 138th over having picked up a hamstring strain. This would turn out to be pivotal as Steyn’s career, post this injury, would fall off a cliff due to recurring injuries.
But back to Rohit and Badrinath, the two of them cement their place in the team and are now starters and are being talked up as the next big duo of Indian cricket. This is bad news for VVS Laxman, however, as he never finds a place back in the team, with the 69* against Bangladesh at Chattogram being the last ever match he plays for the country.
And it is all going well for this new-look, young India - until October 1 in 2010. Laxman’s laying-off comes to bite them on the backside, as the team humiliatingly collapses against a not-so-strong Aussie side, slumping to an embarrassing 26-run defeat in Mohali chasing a modest total of 216. And to add insult to injury, the Aussies ride on the confidence of the Mohali-win and win in Bengaluru too, and walk away with a comfortable 2-0 series win.
In the aftermath of the defeat, skipper MS Dhoni is livid, and so are the other senior members of the team sans Laxman, who are now dead set on sending a strong message out to the rest of the world. They complete a 3-0 rout of New Zealand in the very next month, but are still not satisfied and want to beat a bigger, stronger, better team to assert this authority. Their next stop? A two-match Test series against the Proteas in African Land.
Meanwhile, news comes out of the South African camp weeks before the start of the much-awaited Test series that Steyn will miss both the Tests owing to a calf strain he picked up in the second Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. The Proteas call up Vernon Philander as a replacement and there are instantaneous joyous smiles on the face of the Indian players, who are relieved to be not facing the world’s number one bowler.
And Philander’s Test debut in Centurion turns out to be a disastrous one for the medium pacer, who returns figures of 1-145 on a green top. India ends up winning the match by an innings and 30 runs - against one of the best Test sides in the world - but are still bitterly disappointed. Why? Because Sachin, who was stuck on 49 Test hundreds, somehow, after getting out to debutants Andy McKay and Peter George in the last two months, managed to get out to YET another debutant. Yep, that’s right. The only wicket Philander pocketed in that Test was that of Sachin Tendulkar and he got the little master trapped for just 25.
Moving on, India gets steamrolled by South Africa in the second Test in Cape Town but wallop them in Johannesburg to clinch the series and script history. MS Dhoni, who was being lambasted and castigated for losing a series at home against Australia not so long ago, is now already being hailed as ‘better than Ganguly’ for becoming the first Indian captain to win a series in South Africa.
But how can a captain, that too an Indian captain, be termed ‘the greatest’ if he doesn’t end up winning the World Cup? That’s right. So less than a couple of months post their trouncing of South Africa, the Men in Blue set off in an attempt to clinch their first World Cup title in 28 years. The team has a mix of youth and experience and Rohit Sharma, who’s been a literal god in Test cricket, also has secured his spot in the side.
As the tournament begins, they are ruthless, merciless and cold-blooded. From the Netherlands to South Africa, they slaughter everyone on their way to the quarter-final and seem unstoppable. They lock horns with a familiar foe in the quarters, Australia, and with the 2-0 defeat at home still fresh on their minds, the Men in Blue launch a no-holds-barred assault on the Aussies to progress to the semis. They butcher their arch-nemesis Pakistan in the semis and set-up a clash with Sri Lanka in the final and at this point in time, it looks like the stars aligned for them to become the first team to lift the World Cup at home.
But cometh the final at the Wankhede in front of 30,000 fans, after losing Sachin and Sehwag early chasing 275, a major collapse ensues. Gautam Gambhir fights a lone battle by scoring a valiant 97, but insufficient support from the other end means that the Men in Blue fold like a pack of cards in front of their own men, slumping to a 34-run defeat. And so the wait continues.
Things, however, get worse for them. A fatigued Dhoni picks up a knee injury playing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, which rules him out of the England tour in June. So the Indian team are now led by Sehwag in Britain, and unsurprisingly, a rampant James Anderson and Stuart Broad run riot over an Indian team led by a clueless captain and whitewash them 4-0.
Fast-forward four months and now the team that got whitewashed by England are going to travel to Australia. The good news, however, is that their skipper MS Dhoni has recovered from the knee injury and is fit and raring to go. To everyone’s shock, they go 1-0 up in the series, after successfully chasing 292 in Melbourne, but the fans - and some players - are still upset. Why? Because Sachin, who scored two tons in the World Cup, is now just 3 tons away from 100 international hundreds, but is still searching for his 50th Test ton that’s been evading him for a long time.
Anyway, moving on. The team is humbled in Sydney by Michael Clarke & Co in the second Test, but that’s not the end of it. Sachin, who got out for 80 in the match, drops the ultimate bombshell by announcing his international retirement mid-way through the series, and calls it quits, sick of going behind the ‘tons’. He ends his career with 97 international tons but India are panicking now. They have no clue how to fill the Sachin void mid-way through the series, so they call up this kid from Delhi Virat Kohli, who has the reputation of having an Aussie persona.
BANG! Virat pulls off a masterclass in Perth - scoring 44 and 75 on a green top - and tops off his introduction to international cricket with a fine ton in Adelaide. The trio of him, Rohit and the now-experienced Badrinath keep sucker-punching Australia to the gut and India, against all odds, end up lifting the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia. Dhoni has now won Test series’ in South Africa and Australia in the span of one year and is being talked about as the greatest Test captain the country has ever seen.
Eight months on, the English are here to tour Dhoni’s men for a four-Test series and India have called up this kid from the maidans of Mumbai called Ajinkya Rahane, who scored a match-winning 129 against Railways just days before the start of the first Test. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha spin a web around the English batsman and Kohli, coming on the back off the Australia series - and another incredibly successful series against New Zealand - has the most prolific home-series by an Indian batsman till date, amassing 842 runs in the series. India dismantle the English spinners and this has also forced the 33-year-old Graeme Swann into early retirement.
And naturally, they carry forward this momentum onto ODI cricket as well and win the Champions Trophy in 2013 without losing a single match. By now, the ever-so-prolific Shikhar Dhawan has been integrated into the ODI side and Rohit Sharma has been elevated to the opening slot, a move that has seen him transform from good to great. So, with a victory in Australia and South Africa away from home and invincibility at home in the bag, what could potentially be next in line for the Indians? Of course, the one trophy that has evaded them for 30 years - the ICC Cricket World Cup.
India spend the next part of two years solely with one focus - building towards the World Cup - and they win 28 of their 30 ODI games leading up to the tournament. They now have a potent pace attack in the form of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma. Ashwin and Jadeja, too, have become goliaths in the limited-overs format.
Much in accordance with the 2011 World Cup, they mercilessly thwart everyone on their way to the knockout stage. The quarter-final is against Bangladesh, which was always going to be easy, so they literally moon-walk their way through to the semis. The real test comes in the semi-final against Australia, where they almost choke chasing 335, but out comes Dhoni to the rescue a pulls off an improbable heist to set up a date in the final with the co-hosts New Zealand.
And now, cometh the final, all eyes are on them. One side of the media is reminding them of the 2011 choke and the other side is on about who all will retire should they fail to win the tournament. And with 75,000 fans watching this contest unfold at the mighty G, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum commits the ultimate blunder by electing to bat first. And one blunder, one misstep is enough for the Indians to pounce on. This time around, there are no stutters, nor are there any chokes, and the golden duo of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma make easy work of a target of 184. India, under the leadership of MS Dhoni, lift their first World Cup title in 32 years on Australian soil.
But before everyone could celebrate Dhoni as the undisputed greatest captain in the country’s history, he walks to the press conference and utters the words, “I would like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from all forms of cricket. Winning the World Cup is all I ever wanted and now, having achieved everything I wanted, this is the perfect time for me to hang up my boots.”
The date is March 30, 2015 and the BCCI, in a press conference, finally break the suspense and reveal the name of team India’s brand-new captain across all formats - Rohit Sharma.
(This is the first piece of our new weekly series "What if Wednesday" that triggers the grey cells in your imagination, allowing us to look at the craziest set of events that could have happened, starting from one single point in the history of the game; only if.)
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