Indian cricketer Rohit Sharma | Photo: @ICC | Twitter
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He has an imposing presence at the crease. Not a Chris Gayle-like personality that destroys the bowlers with an astonishing range of shots, but able to make an impact in his own way. Rohit Sharma, a batsman with a combination of silken drives and robust pulls, can be a subject worthy of a case study on how to convert your energy into a successful career.

He has also created a legion of cricket fans who flock the venue to watch him. For Diya Valeja, a cricket fan, Rohit is the reason she came to love the game. Diya says, ‘I was never a cricket fan before 2013. But being a true Mumbaikar, I used to watch bits and pieces from a few MI (Mumbai Indian) games because my father and grandfather would watch the IPL (Indian Premier League) like most Indian households. I remember watching a game of Mumbai Indians that season and the way Rohit played in that match, I was awestruck! For some reason it really made me want to watch more games and before I knew it, there I was, sitting on my sofa before every Mumbai Indians match waiting for the toss. Rohit Sharma is the reason why I have been following cricket since 2013–2014 and I have been in love with him, and the game, ever since.’

It can be demanding for a popular sportsman to keep the fans happy. But Rohit has a connect with them right from his early days with the Mumbai team. He appeals to the common cricket follower.

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Behind the amazing stroke player that he is, Rohit has an enviable humility to his character. Diya, for whom this cricketer from Mumbai is a complete package of what a sports icon should be, says, ‘I can confidently say that I have never seen a man as humble as Rohit. He will talk to you like he has known you for years. He remains grounded no matter what. And I think that is something we don’t see a lot these days. His persistence, leadership skills, rags-to-riches story, and standing up for what he believes in with all the wonderful initiatives he takes up—whether it is rhino conservation or raising awareness about protecting the environment, I think all these things make him the perfect person to look up to.’

Here is an anecdote that brings out the role model in Rohit. Diya has been fortunate to meet him thrice and had this to share. ‘I first met him back in 2016, as a nervous tenth grader who was about to give her preliminary exams. When I was introduced to him, I was shaking. He noticed that and immediately tried to lighten things up and made me feel extremely comfortable. The second time was just after MI’s 2017 IPL victory and when we met him, coincidentally, the match highlights were going on in that room. He explained the last two overs ball by ball to us and what he was telling the bowlers to do. For a moment it felt like we were a part of the game. In April 2019, I was invited by MI with a few other fans to celebrate his birthday with him and we spent more than an hour together—he cut the cake with us, gave time and spoke to each one of us and even gave “us” presents. Imagine, someone of his stature spending time with his fans on his birthday. He is a gem. Meeting him always feels like meeting a family member, he makes you feel that way.’

It is this aspect of Rohit that endears him to the cricket world. His smile is infectious and brings loads of pleasantness to the dressing room. He steps up to assume all the responsibility associated with a match-winner. Nothing perturbs him because of his self-belief. The greater the challenge, the better is Rohit’s response.

That Rohit is a modest man is well established. He will be the first to acknowledge with a nod a good delivery by the opponent. Misdemeanours have not been a part of his behaviour, whether on or off the field. He loves to compete and seeks to take on the best. This makes him a strong cricketer, and his teammates have benefited from his positive attitude.

There is a firm belief in the Mumbai Indians and Team India dressing room that Rohit is the most calming influence during tough situations. He takes joy in motivating the partner in the middle, often taking on the best bowler of the day, and never shying from shielding his fellow batsman from challenges from the opponents. Throw Rohit a challenge and expect a robust response. Much to the delight of the spectators, this attacking opener often gives them a feast of runs.

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For Rohit, the most glowing praise came from Sunil Gavaskar, the greatest opening batsman the game has seen. Gavaskar was the reason players like Tendulkar, Dravid, Sanjay Manjrekar took to the game. The maestro, an epitome of perfection at the crease, described his admiration for Rohit when speaking to India Today.

‘The way you see a Rohit Sharma opening the batting in one-day cricket, Test cricket smashing from the first over. That is what I wanted to play. Circumstances and, of course, lack of confidence in my ability did not allow me to do that. But when I see the next generation doing it, I am absolutely over the moon, I love watching the next generation because there you see progress. You see how they are setting the bar higher for the next generation.’

Rohit could not have asked for a bigger award for his batsmanship in all formats of the game.

This domineering batsmanship is what sets Rohit apart. Not one to make tall claims, he has always believed in making things happen by getting the bat to talk. Strange that some people could not digest his popularity and tried to create a wedge between him and Kohli at the end of the 2019 World Cup. Gavaskar was understandably furious. He had encountered similar issues when critics wrote about his fallout with Kapil Dev at the peak of their careers.

In his column in Sportstar, Gavaskar said Virat and Rohit may shout from the rooftops but the issue won’t die.

‘Every time Rohit fails there will be those who will nod their heads knowingly and wink, hinting he deliberately got out. Nobody even gives a thought to the fact that if a player fails he is likely to be dropped and so he would be hurting his own chances of survival in the squad. Whoever starts such stories is definitely not a well-wisher of Indian cricket. More often than not it’s a frustrated player in the squad who gives wings to stories like this. His envy and jealousy harm the team. Then, of course, it suits some administrators to play their own game of politics.’

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It is hard to be a popular cricketer because the fans and the media put you under constant scrutiny. In Rohit’s case, the intensity is great because the expectations are highest. The brand of cricket that he plays allows him to take the opponents by the scruff of the neck, and the audience loves it. Young cricketers on the circuit want to emulate his style and have to be cautioned by their coaches. Rohit is gifted. He has worked hard on his game. He has also built his personality to establish a warm connect with his fans, the people he rates as the most important segment of cricket. There can’t be a hero without fans.

What would a cricket fan ask of Rohit if given an opportunity for an interview? Diya, who was floored when Rohit recognized her when they met the second time, gushes, ‘With all the adulation that surrounds cricket and cricketers, it is very easy to lose your humility, especially in a country like India where cricketers are worshipped. So I would want to ask him what keeps him so grounded even after being who he is today.’

It is not hard to find an answer. Rohit learnt a lesson early in his life from his coach Lad: ‘Stay grounded when you achieve success.’ Rohit has remembered those impactful words.   

This excerpt from The Hitman: The Rohit Sharma Story by Vijay Lokapally and G. Krishnan has been published with permission from Bloomsbury India.

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