It's Gabba. Series decider. Rohit Sharma is in the middle. He's looking great at 44 off 73. He's surely not going to throw it away like SCG. He's a senior man. But Rohit goes for a big lofted hit off Lyon. He's caught. What have you done Rohit? Sunil Gavaskar is livid. Ricky Ponting is critical.
It's Rohit vs the whole world. Making him deputy to Ajinkya Rahane is being questioned. His away record is again in focus. His shot selection. The inability to convert a start again. The baffling nature of the dismissal from a seasoned campaigner in his 15th year of international career. The game situation. Where India are in the series.
Rohit comes out in the presser. He's chilled. But his defense of the dismissal is dismissive. After a good long explanation, he intently expresses, "Like I said, those are my shots and I will keep playing them." This is some statement. His way of saying, 'talk as much as you want, for I, don't even give two hoots about it'.
This is Rohit Sharma. He does things his way. It's my way or the highway. There isn’t a bigger believer in the mantra of ‘live by the sword, you die by the sword’ than him. That's how it's been in the lead up to the Australia tour.
Let's go back to November, 2020, UAE, IPL. Rohit Sharma's fitness, injury and rehabilitation have become the mystery of the Indian cricket. This is Indian cricket's own Bermuda Triangle. Rohit is practicing in one of the videos released by Mumbai Indians. But he isn't in the squad for Australia. There's no official statement from BCCI about his hamstring injury.
The heavyweights of Indian cricket Sourav Ganguly and Ravi Shastri are warning him against rushing into playing for Mumbai Indians. India's head coach is recalling how he could have extended his career by half-a-decade had he not rushed back from injury, trying to knock experience into India’s white-ball vice-captain. On November 4, BCCI's President, the most powerful man in Indian cricket, is warning Rohit not to rush back. But on the same day, in the evening, Rohit comes out to the toss in the playoff against Delhi Capitals. The cricketing world goes into a meltdown. Rohit is trending everywhere. He’s being criticized as much as BCCI.
He continues playing amidst putting a lot of men who matter in Indian cricket into a state of embarrassment. The 33-year-old keeps playing until Mumbai Indians bag the IPL glory yet again. He's at the forefront of all things good for the Men in Blue. He makes a final winning fifty unfazed and unconcerned by all the fuss outside for MI. For him, he does what he wants. He achieves what he sets out for himself. But not without all the criticism that comes along. He goes for rehab to the NCA. As it emerges, he's not able to fit in the side till the third Test against Australia. The club vs country debate is also going on in full swing.
Amid all this, he also bumps himself into trouble with the alleged bio-bubble breach in Melbourne after joining the team. More so, because Rohit is a senior man expected to behave more responsibly.
All this had happened, also the SCG late in the day dismissal yet the aggressive batsman came out with all the conviction of still going for his shots at the Gabba off Nathan Lyon. That's Rohit Gurunath Sharma for you.
But then came another low. India lost for the first time in a Test at home since 2017 in the Test series opener against the Three Lions in Chennai. The veteran opener again failed. His age. Mayank Agarwal's ouster, which for many was gross injustice. Everything was stacked up against Rohit. This was Rohit Sharma vs the world world again. Another failure in Chennai and the criticism would have grown stronger than ever before.
But in the very first session of the ongoing second game, what can be a series defining Test - Rohit came out with all guns blazing. The same attitude that was getting him flak for the last few months kept him going at the Chepauk. The art of being unfazed. The art of keeping the noise out. The art of not giving into intense criticism. The art to be himself. The Rohit Sharma we know. Free flowing, playing his shots, a bit of audacity, full of chutzpah, just the Hitman style.
The first day pitch was tricky unlike the first Test. The ball was turning and the puff of dust kept coming off a lot of deliveries. The ball was stopping a bit too. Jack Leach had a more than accurate partner in Moeen Ali. Stuart Broad with fresh legs and mighty confidence of being at his peak. Olly Stone with the pace, the early wicket, the hit-the-deck-hard mantra of Jofra Archer. Cheteshwar Pujara got out to a sharp turner. Virat Kohli was done in by a classic offie that came back sharply to leave him stunned. This wasn’t a flat pitch. Raging turner as Rohit would term it later in the press conference.
But it was a blockbuster Rohit Sharma show. The one for which Chennai crowds won't mind creating a hole in their pockets. There was application, there was discipline but also the daredevilry to play shots at free will. The audacious pull six off Ben Stokes in the 12th over with deep square leg in place was as big a statement as when he started sweeping Jack Leach for all his money. It was interesting to see Rohit coming down the track to counter spin and also play sweep shots. Generally, a batsman does either of the two but not a freak like Rohit. He came down the track to 24% of the deliveries he faced from spin at one point in the day, well up on his career average of 10%, as revealed by CricViz.
Also, he would lunge forward to play one ball, which is dangerous, but then also would go back and punish loose balls, which is just mastery of playing spin bowling. When India reached 50, it was Rohit with 42 of them. When they reached 100, it was 75 of his runs, and he kept dominating England. By the time he got out, India had made 248 of which the right-hander made 161.
He had racked up 80* runs by the time first session was done, and, notably, only three times had an Indian opener made more runs in the opening session of a Test, two of which was achieved by Virender Sehwag, that too on a turner. No wonder India made runs quickly at 4.1 rpo in the first session, or else, they could have been in a dire situation, especially given they don't play six specialist batsmen in India and in this game, there was no Washington Sundar either.
But Rohit wasn't only about attack. In the second session, the elegant batsman showed he was there for a long shot. The daddy hundreds, which daddy Rohit loves. There was composure. Temperament, which was missing at times, in the last few months. When he reached his hundred, his celebration gave out a lot.
Virat Kohli was crazily excited like ever. His wife Ritika Sajdeh, a cross between relieved and nervous. But when the camera panned on Rohit, he was not over the moon, rather steely determined with a bigger pursuit. Not too bothered about hundred or as much as he's when people write against him. He was eyeing a big one. That's a hallmark of his game, when he gets a hundred, he makes it a big one. In the process of reaching the three-figure mark, he became the opener with most Test centuries since the time he started opening for India in 2019. He also became the batsman with most (19) international hundreds since 2018.
Rohit kept on piling runs as his partnership grew bigger with Ajinkya Rahane taking the game further away from England after early inroads. He kept on making run-scoring easy, when it clearly wasn’t. He got out on 161 but not before putting India in a commanding position. The value of his runs magnified when during the fag end of play, someone like Joe Root was spitting venom off the surface. To think of what he did - make 161 off 231, on a turner - it was arguably Rohit's best Test knock yet, given the context and what all he had to go through since IPL.
To be a successful sportsman, the art of living in a bubble is paramount. The ability to filter out noise from intense criticism. To have faith in your game when the whole world is against you. Today, the Mumbaikar embodied the same spirit that helped him turn into the Hitman of Indian cricket from the most trolled player. From one intensely disliked to having one of the biggest fan bases. Rohit's approach of 'my way or highway' can polarize opinions but not his performances as long as they keep coming, like the epic today.