Rohit Sharma and winning the IPL: How the love story began
The greatest turnaround in IPL history and how a 22-year-old became a hero of the tale.
"Cometh the hour, cometh the man": A patient century by Rohit Sharma has helped India clinch the ODI series against the Proteas. With the highest individual score (264) and three ODI double-hundreds to his name, Rohit had already cemented his place among the stalwarts of ODI cricket.
Half a decade ago, not even steadfast fans of him would've expected him to conquer such glory. He stormed into the senior team with crucial contributions in tricky situations in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and the Commonwealth Bank Series down under in 2008. But when his stocks plummeted in the international scenario, it was the glamour of IPL that kept him from fading into oblivion.
How did all this begin? Rohit was one of the precocious youngsters when IPL was conceived in 2008. He was scooped by Deccan Chargers in the first auction and ended up as the lone bright spark in their abysmal wooden spoon finish. However, it was the IPL's South African odyssey that changed his life forever.
362 in 16 innings at a strike rate of 114.92 doesn't look extraordinary, considering he did much better in the previous edition. But what made him an indispensable member of the team were situations in which those runs came, much like the fifth ODI. And of course, your performances are always noticed more when it results in the team's triumph!
The sedate start
Deccan Chargers began with four wins on the trot in which Rohit quietly accumulated runs, playing the sheet anchor role, except for his blitzkrieg 52(30) against Royal Challengers Bangalore (which remained his only 50+ score in the tournament!).
But three straight losses followed, and the conquest looked in a quandary. The situation was an eerie foreshadowing of Rohit's own personal career, which looked bleak before the "opening" experiment. But, the moments of magic were yet to come.
When Rohit rolled his golden arm
Mumbai Indians were placed at 103-4 with 43 required off 26 balls. JP Duminy and Abhishek Nayar were at the crease for Mumbai. Looking to capitalize on Rohit's seemingly innocuous off-spin, Nayar went too much across the line, only to see his stumps in disarray.
The next ball, Harbhajan went for the glory shot, but only managed to chop the ball onto the stumps. With the pressure mounting, the spin expert Duminy could not help himself from sweeping the juicy toss on his legs.
On any other day, it'd have raced to the boundary, but it wasn't to be. The ball kissed his gloves and rested in Gilchrist's safe hands, as the unfashioned part-timer claimed a hat-trick. He went further, catching Saurabh Tiwary short of the crease, and finished with figures of 4/6 in 2 overs. Not to mention that Deccan Chargers won, and Rohit won the Man of the Match
The mid-tournament redemption
Coming to the match against Kolkata Knight Riders on the back of three consecutive cheap dismissals, Rohit was under pressure to perform. Chargers had made a mess of the chase of 161 and were 140-4 at the end of 19 overs.
What followed was carnage: 4nb, 1, 1, 6, 0wd, 2, 4, 6. Rohit scored 23 off 5, as he single-handedly scripted what was the greatest last over finish in IPL history then. He reclaimed his groove, but more importantly, he found his new role in the team - the finisher. He almost repeated the feat against KXIP couple of days later, but Chargers fell short by one run as Irfan Pathan's well-disguised slow ball got the better of him.
The final dash
The semi-final was a one-man show, as the Gilchrist hurricane effectively blew Delhi out of the contest. The final though, was a different affair. On a sluggish surface in Johannesburg, Anil Kumble was wrecking havoc. Providing staunch support to a defiant Gibbs, Rohit made a patient 24 before perishing while eyeing to accelerate. A spirited effort from the bowlers aided by some electric fielding helped Chargers to claim their maiden title.
A tally of 11 wickets at an economy of 7 runs per over and crucial batting contributions meant that Rohit bagged the Emerging Player of the Year award.
Nine years down the line, he is among the most consistent batsmen and astute leaders who have played the tournament. He has won three more IPL titles with the Mumbai Indians and will be looking to do add to that in the next season. Now, he has also finally come off good against quality oppositions overseas. Maybe, and let's all hope, the best is yet to come for Rohit.