IPL 2020: Rohit Sharma's successful 2019 must act as a springboard for his personal pedigree in the upcoming season
For most, the beauty of watching an elite athlete clobbering away to glory with languid elegance is what drives their passion for sports. Watching a fellow human make the game you love look so easy by coalescing supreme ability with commitment and hard work is a source of inspiration to thrive in your personal space, as much as it is a source of exceptional entertainment.
In 2019, Rohit Sharma’s wonderful technique and a drive to showcase the best version of himself on the grandest stages, under the most trying circumstances, helped in concocting an air of inevitability upon his arrival to the crease - you simply knew that he is in the mood to scythe through the opposition.
Planting his front foot forward against the fiercest bowlers on testing tracks, Rohit’s lazy elegance and nonchalance took precedence and saw him play some breathtaking strokes, that quite frankly left a majority of people at home and in the stadium amused and amazed. No wonder that whenever the man sauntered off the cricketing field at the culmination of a sensational knock, you were left deciphering the method behind his brilliance.
Aggregating 1490 runs at an average of 57.30 with a strike rate of 89.92 and a high score of 159, Rohit was the highest run-scorer of 2019 in ODI cricket. As such, we saw India’s most flamboyant batsman graduate from the cusp of greatness of sorts - a year when shouts of him being proclaimed the best white-ball cricketer around reached a crescendo.
Only compatriot Virat Kohli (2455 runs in 46 innings) scored more runs in the calendar year than the Mumbai Indians captain (2442 runs in 47 innings). Although, Rohit's proclivity to bide his time and play decisive, long innings helped him steal a march on Kohli, as he ended up scoring 10 hundred's, three more than Kohli’s seven, and the most for any batsman in the world.
What’s even more fascinating is how incredibly varied these centuries were in terms of whom they were scored against, Rohit became the first player to score a century against seven different opponents in a calendar year in international cricket.
He began the year by registering a ton against Australia in Sydney, followed it up with a glittering World Cup campaign where he absolutely dominated proceedings and struck five centuries against South Africa, Pakistan, England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Topping off the year in the same vein in which he started it, Rohit registered his highest score of the year in a 159-run knock against the West Indies at Visakhapatnam.
A proven match-winner, the greatest testament to Rohit's burgeoning stature and status as one of India's most significant cogs at present is the fact that of the 2442 runs he scored in 2019, 1921 of those runs came in matches where India were victorious, which amounts to a staggering 78.67 winning percentage.
His dominance in white-ball cricket notwithstanding, one of the most frustrating aspects of watching Rohit over the years has been the puzzling mediocrity he has exhibited in Test cricket. How could a man who’s so good at what he does falter in one of the most important and revered formats of the game for so long? It was something quite difficult to grasp.
Keeping in line with his fantastic 2019 though, Rohit put all lingering doubts about his ability and temperament to perform in Test match cricket to bed when he took to the field against South Africa. What we witnessed throughout this three-match Test series from the 32-year-old cannot really be articulated in words.
Putting the South African bowlers to the sword in a batting display that oozed class, exquisiteness and most importantly, was underlined by a will to ruthlessly dominate the opposition, Rohit put on a show for the ages. The opener broke several records by the time the series was won by India, wherein they made the Proteas look like partial protagonists at best and presented captain Virat Kohli with a welcome solution to his opening conundrum in the process.
Rohit amassed 556 runs in Test cricket in 2019, at a jaw-dropping average of 92.66, and is firmly in the reckoning to be the highest run-scorer of the ongoing ICC World Test Championship.
Like the international circuit, franchise cricket was kind to Rohit in 2019 as well and saw him properly become major-league. It was the year when he replaced the iconic MS Dhoni as perhaps the most influential figure in the history of the IPL and certainly overtook him as the most successful captain in the history of the tournament.
Although his form with the bat for the Mumbai Indians left a lot to be desired, the foxy methods with which he dug his team out of precarious situations, coupled with the guile with which he approached high-pressure circumstances, ensured that Mumbai won a record fourth IPL title under his leadership.
Naturally then, it is only fair to talk about the most fascinating aspect of his stint with the Mumbai Indians - the manner in which he's matured into an impeccable leader. Although his initial appointment as captain was met with mixed reactions, the process of watching him blossom into a headstrong, vocal figure has been heartening, to say the least.
Two of the most alluring qualities of Rohit as captain of the Mumbai Indians over the years have been the sense of assuredness that he transmits throughout the squad and how he protects his players, both old and young when they’ve been in testing situations that demand strength of character.
It helps then that in the 32-year-old, they have a man who is always willing to lead by example, never loses faith in his own abilities in the face of adversity, and always backs his players. This, in addition to Rohit's in-game tweaks to transfer the balance of the game in his team's favour, have made him one of the best leaders not only in the IPL, but also in the national team setup.
You can look at it as the creation of a culture spearheaded by him, wherein there’s a general understanding of everybody working towards a method where the team's strengths as a unit are emphasized and their weaknesses are disguised.
What’s aided this side of Rohit to blossom then? Pragmatic cricketing reasons aside, the manner in which his personal life has evolved over the past year - he was blessed with a baby girl towards the end of 2018 - has definitely played a part in how he has become much calmer, more self-aware and definitely more mature in how he approaches the game.
This is evidenced by how Rohit conducts himself in press conferences now, where a formerly held sense of cynicism has been dislodged by an ostensible assurance.
The Rohit of 2019 was sprightly, which was in stark contrast to the past where there was a certain amount of disinterest and a slight scepticism - there’s definitely a greater degree of composure and certainty that parenthood has established.
Coming into 2020 at the back of one of the best calendar years he’s enjoyed, Rohit’s priority for the upcoming edition of the IPL, in addition to retaining the trophy, must be to finally break the shackles of mediocrity with regards to his batting performances in the tournament.
Run tallies of 333, 286 and 405 in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions respectively make for grim reading for a player of his pedigree, and there’s an urgent need for Rohit to arrest this slump in the 2020 edition of the IPL.
The momentum that he has generated in the prelude to the annual extravaganza bodes well. Now, it’s all about continuing with the same fortitude and conviction he’s exhibited with aplomb throughout 2019 for India, and translate that into spectacular batting numbers in Mumbai Indians colours as well.