Rohit Sharma 3.0 – poetic reincarnation of a father to achieve his father’s dream

The Oval century for Rohit Sharma - his first overseas - is the realisation of a dream that poetically took shape spanning across three generations.

Rohit Sharma

As Joe Root hurriedly scampered through with his round arm action from around the wicket in a bid to rush through to the second new ball, the packed Oval crowd had found their own entertainment in this rare calm amid the attrition. Those in attendance, perhaps a few drinks down, bellowed the name of the English captain to the tune of The Beatles’ Hey Jude as Rohit Sharma – fresh off his maiden overseas Test century – dead batted without much sweat.

The Indian opener was perhaps himself taking a moment’s break. It is difficult to say whether this Test century would have made much difference to Rohit Sharma’s legacy as a modern day great. It is even more difficult to gauge the importance of this knock to his Test career. He is already one of the first names on the team sheet. The conversation and narrative have now shifted from how to fit Rohit Sharma into the side to who partners Rohit Sharma at the top.

And it is nigh impossible to fathom what exactly the century in the fourth Test match means to Rohit the person. Every cricketer and sportsman – with age, time and their impact on the acceptance of reality – realises and eventually makes peace with their place in the bigger picture of their very publicly played out domain.

Rohit Sharma and a moment of personal salvation

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma

To that end, Rohit has probably left behind the desperate chase to make it big in Test cricket. He realises that his achievements across the white ball formats and teams he continues to represent is transcendent of generation. He will, undoubtedly, be used as an example and a barometer for future cricketers. Rohit has three ODI double centuries to his name. He has won 5 IPL titles as captain and one more as a player. These are all records only he holds.

Rohit is also the only cricketer to have five centuries to his name in a single edition of an ICC World Cup. He achieved this in 2019. And yet, his team was left agonizingly short of the mark in the semi final. As MS Dhoni – in his final game of international cricket – stretched in vain to beat a Martin Guptill direct hit, the camera panned to an absolutely desolate Rohit Sharma in the dressing room balcony.

As far as expressive pictures go, this frame was as verbose as any. Here he was, perhaps with the greatest single man showing in a major tournament, looking on helplessly with arm across his forehead and head – as his heart – sinking. Such is sport that in a moment, everything can mean nothing.

Rohit Sharma
Hitman dejected after India’s lost to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi final

And perhaps in that very moment, Rohit Sharma made it a point to change something. England had already changed Rohit’s career once. Back in 2013, India needed an opener in ODIs and Dhoni turned to him ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy. And six years later, those five centuries in the same land maybe convinced him of giving one final shot at a different format.

Rohit was already a Test match player but not one of note for India. In fact, it was often questioned whether he harboured a strong ambition of making himself one either. It is around this point India required a Test opener, much like in 2013 ODI cricket. And Rohit Sharma, irregular in Tests at number six was – amid debates – pushed up to that position.

Since then, to the day, there has been no better opener in Test cricket; and no better batsman for India in the red ball format. He was always going to score runs in India. That was never in doubt. His overseas pedigree was questioned. He silenced some of his critics in Australia but never really cashed in on the starts. The jury was still out.

In England, however, those questions have been emphatically answered. It is poetic, too, that in the country where he made his first rebirth the year he made his Test debut, he performs yet another reincarnation. And he triumphed like a gladiator, hitting a six over long on to notch up his century. That moment felt as though a true victor was emerging from the smoke and dust of battle after what seemed for ages like he never would see the other side.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma after scoring his first overseas century

And it must have been a moment of personal salvation. A battle between Rohit Sharma and his own self. The Indian opener has not just scored the most runs from his team but he has batted more deliveries than Test cricketer of the year elect Joe Root. And the latter is his real victory. For the longest time it never seemed likely that Rohit possessed the patience or will to bat time, grind through the difficult hours and would instead let the talent of his imperiously natural stroke play get the better of him.

Not anymore; and that is why, while it is easy to understand that this Test century has little overall impact on a glittering career regardless, it is nigh impossible to fathom what it means to Rohit the person. That is also perhaps why statistics in sport holds little significance when compared to the riches of context.

Rohit Sharma and a fatherly call

Rohit Sharma
The 264 innings at Eden Gardens

And talking about context, the perspective behind this century of Rohit’s is enhanced manifolds when one considers his relationship with his father and the importance Rohit places on that bond.

The Indian opener had said in an interview in 2019 that his father calls him after every day of Test cricket to discuss his son’s batting. Rohit also mentioned how much it means to his father to see his son represent India in Test cricket. Rohit has gone on record detailing the hurt he felt over the years with his performances in Test cricket because of his father’s love for the long format. Rohit has often said that he wants to live his father’s dream of succeeding in Test cricket.

He had jokingly also mentioned how his father did not call him after his 264 against Sri Lanka in ODIs but makes sure to ring him up during Test tours.

And when the third day’s play at Oval was called off early due to bad light, Rohit must have gotten an emotional phone call from India. Being a father himself now, perhaps this has taken greater contextual significance for the 34-year-old.

Rohit Sharma and the mental game

Rohit Sharma
The dance down the track by Rohit Sharma to notch up his century at Oval

At 34, one might feel that they are leaving their best years behind in sport. Life brings multiple new dimensions and with time, every sportsman – once obsessed with their passion – begins to realise that their game is only their profession. Only a part of their life and not life itself.

That realisation has maybe helped Rohit set his mind in that perfect space of wanting the success just enough so as not to chase it too desperately. It is a difficult task, one must add. Rohit made his India debut in 2007 and won the inaugural T20 World Cup. He was fast tracked into the ODI team and was even set to make his Test debut all the way back in 2010 before an injury ruled him out.

Rohit eventually made his debut in 2013, in between which he missed out on India’s triumphant 2011 ODI World Cup squad. He had also gone from the next big thing to an internet meme. He also had to wait for his third Test century for four years following his second.

Here is a man who has seen it all in life through sport. And all this while always harbouring at the back of his mind the constant overwhelming knowledge of his father’s dream. All his lows inevitably make him a good leader but that he still found that space within himself to succeed in Test cricket is indicative of the mental strength he possesses.

And he detailed in a recent interview, “Mind is the most powerful thing,” as he spoke about visualising in his own confines and self-explaining that he is good enough to play Test cricket, strong enough to stand through difficult phases and resilient enough to grind every day. He also spoke about letting go and accepting failure.

“Maybe you will not succeed but if you convince your mind, you will at least move in that direction,” Rohit also said. And that is perhaps the key factor in Rohit’s reincarnation. The realisation that cricket is not everything in life and to be able to live with failure.

Is it poetic that all this comes after Rohit himself became a father?

“Sun will rise again tomorrow” Rohit had tweeted after being left out of the England Test tour in 2018. And even under the cloudy skies of London on Saturday, the sun managed to peek just enough to steal a glimpse of a very poetic reincarnation of a father who realized his father’s dream!