Rohit Sharma understands the gargantuan pressure that a home World Cup brings but the Indian captain wants to insulate himself from the outside chatter as he embarks on an arduous journey to win the country’s first ICC trophy in a decade.
Shouldering more than a billion hopes, the 36-year-old India skipper knows what’s at stake in the ODI World Cup, which starts October 5 with England taking on New Zealand in Ahmedabad.
“For me, it is important how I keep myself relaxed and not worry about external factors that play a role, whether positively or not negatively. I want to shut out everything,” Rohit told PTI in an exclusive interview just before joining the Asia Cup camp in Benglauru.
“I want to get into the phase I was in before the 2019 World Cup,” said Rohit, who carries an aura of Zen even in the most tense of situations.
The same calm was visible as he put across his point of view in an uncomplicated manner during the interview, just like the straight face of his bat when he hits the bowler’s back-drive.
“I was in great frame of mind and prepared really well for the tournament,” he said referring to the last edition, where he scored 648 runs with an unprecedented five hundreds to emerge as the highest run-getter.
“I was in good shape, good mindset. I want to bring that back and I have time to do that. Trying to recollect what were the right things that I was doing before the 2019 World Cup as a cricketer and as a person. I want to revisit that thought-process of mine personally,” the skipper said.
World Cups and the vagaries associated with the results can change a lot of things but for Rohit, one month of cricket can’t make or break the player that he is.
“A person can’t change overnight with his success or failures,” he said.
“I don’t think one result or one championship can change me as a person. I have not changed as a person in the last 16 years and I don’t think anything needs to change on that front,” he said.
“The focus will be on how I can achieve my goals in the next two months, for me and my team. A person can’t change in a period of one or two months.” Rohit has won five IPL titles as Mumbai Indians captain, Asia Cup as India captain (2018) and led the team to World Test Championship final as recently as June this year.
Do you ever think about your legacy in Indian cricket after being around for 16 years? “No,” pat came the reply. “I am not the person who thinks about what kind of legacy I will leave behind. My legacy will be for people to judge and talk about. Not for me to say.” He has 30 ODI hundreds, second only to Virat Kohli’s 46. Add 10 Test hundreds and four T20I tons. A total of 17,000 plus international runs aren’t bad numbers.
“I am not a firm believer in numbers. You should be happy and enjoy the time you have in-front of you, and try to live in that kind of moment. I am thinking about what gives me happiness,” he added.
“For me, it’s all about creating memories and creating a good rapport with my teammates. Be happy in whatever you get and whatever you have.”
TEAM SELECTION HEARTBREAKS
Rohit will have an unenviable task of telling at least three out of 18 members of the core group that they won’t be a part of World Cup’s exclusive 15.
There is a sense of déjà vu. When he was 23, Rohit didn’t get a look-in in that history-making ‘Class of 2011’. It had hurt, back then and no one knows that better than him.
“While picking the best combination, there will be guys who will miss out for various reasons and Rahul bhai (Dravid) and I have tried our best to explain to the players why they are not in the squad.” “We have tried to communicate with the players after every selection and playing XI that has been announced. We talk to them face to face, one-on-one why they have not been picked,” he said.
“Sometimes, I try and put myself in their shoes. When I wasn’t picked in 2011, it was such heart-breaking moment for me and I felt what’s left after being dropped from a World Cup squad?” He had no qualms in admitting that at times his and Dravid’s decision can go wrong.
“Me, coaches, and selectors, take into account all factors like opposition, surfaces, our strengths, their weaknesses, and then reach a common ground. There is every chance that we will not be perfect always.
“At the end of the day, few individuals make decisions, and we are bound to make mistakes as humans. We won’t always be right,” he added with a pause.
Rohit feels that he “needs to keep an open mind” and listen to everyone’s view and what other people around him are thinking.
“It’s not like, I don’t like this person, so I am dropping him. Captaincy is not based on personal likes and dislikes. If anyone misses out, there is a reason for it. If you are the unlucky one, we can do nothing.” So who was the one who put an arm around his shoulder after the 2011 World Cup team was announced? “I was sad and sitting in my room and didn’t know what to do next. I remember Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) calling me to his room and taking me out for dinner.
“He explained to me how it feels when you are left out. He told me, ‘the best thing is that you have so many years in-front of you. As we play in the World Cup, you take this chance to work hard on your game, skills and make a comeback. There is no way that you won’t play for India or not get a chance to play in the World Cup’.” Skipper MS Dhoni and selectors felt that an additional wrist spinner in Piyush Chawla would be more useful than an extra batter back in 2011.
“I went back to the drawing board, worked hard and immediately after the World Cup, I made a comeback and it has been good since then. Since this is me, who has gone through this emotion, no one can tell me that “easier said than done”.
“I have faced exclusion in a World Cup, and I know how it exactly feels.”
Batter Rohit, the pull-shots and the risks taken
If there is one shot that has become ‘signature Rohit’ over the years, it is the pull-shot that he has played mostly with success, though at times it does bring about his downfall.
So how much does he practice the pull in the nets against throwdown experts? “There is no specific training I do to play that shot. Nobody knows about the work I did before that.
“Raghu (Raghvendra), Nuwan (Senaviratne) and Daya (Garani) have all come in recent years and I have been playing this shot for a long time, he said, referring to the three support staff members.
“I have worked on this shot since U-17 and U-19 days. Now I don’t practice this shot specifically during the training. If I find a ball pitched short, I play the pull. The bowlers are not just going to bowl short, so during training I tell bowlers to bowl everything in a manner they want.”