Rohit Sharma’s stop-start Test career just seemed to have received a timely fillip at the start of the last season. After a sensational start in November 2013 when he made centuries in his first two Tests against the team that was then called West Indies, the Mumbai batsman’s Test forays were filled more with disappointment than delight when, at the beginning of a home season of 13 Tests, he made half-centuries in each of the three matches against New Zealand in a series India swept 3-0.
However, fate had an unkind cut in store. In the final One-Day International of that same tour in Visakhapatnam in October 2016, Rohit picked up an upper thigh injury that necessitated surgery, and kept him out of cricket for the better part of five months. Consequently, the 30-year-old missed each of the remaining 10 Tests, only making a return to competitive cricket at the IPL where he led Mumbai Indians to an unprecedented third title.
Rohit’s Test record is not disastrous – he has made 1184 runs and averages 37 in 21 games – but pales in comparison with his ODI and Twenty20 International numbers. In 158 ODIs, almost half of which have come at the top of the order, he has amassed 5435 runs at 42.46 and remains the only batsman to have made two double-centuries in 50-over internationals. He also has a hundred and an average of 31.72 coupled with a strike-rate of 129.41 in 62 T20Is.
“At the end of the day, I want to be a big match-winner for the team, that’s all I am looking forward to and that’s all there is on my mind every time I step out on to the field. As simple as that. You must have seen me over the years, I try not to complicate things. I keep it very simple. Yes, I want to be a successful cricketer but at the same time, for me, what is most important is how many games and matches I have won for the team.”
Now back in the hunt and having just slipped into his 11th year of international cricket, this tour of Sri Lanka offers Rohit another chance to re-establish his Test credentials. He warmed up for the three-Test series with a polished 38 in a warm-up game on Saturday (July 22) against a Sri Lanka Board President’s XI, then said that while he was keen to be recognised as a successful Test cricketer, that wasn’t something he would necessarily lose sleep over.
“It is important but having said that, I try and not look into all those things because those are personal accolades and for me, it is important that whenever I get an opportunity, I try and make the most of it and contribute,” he said at the CCC ground. “At the end of the day, I want to be a big match-winner for the team, that’s all I am looking forward to and that’s all there is on my mind every time I step out on to the field. As simple as that. You must have seen me over the years, I try not to complicate things. I keep it very simple. Yes, I want to be a successful cricketer but at the same time, for me, what is most important is how many games and matches I have won for the team.”
Rohit is involved in a scramble for a middle-order berth, and is most likely to miss out if India play with five bowlers. It is a competition he almost welcomes, in keeping with his desire to be a team-man more than anything else. “It’s very simple, the fight for that spot will always be there whichever format you play, and it’s good for cricket and good for your team when you have that healthy competition around,” he pointed out. “It makes everyone step up to the challenge all the time, whenever they step on to the field. For me, if the opportunity comes, I will try to make the most of it. I would rather not think too much about whether I will be playing or not, which number I will bat, things like that. It doesn’t work for me, thinking too much about all those things. Whatever is in my control, I try and think about those things and it works for me. I try and always stick to my strengths, things that I have been doing over the years and that has helped me be wherever I am today.”
It is that same uncomplicated approach he embraces as he reflects on the most untimely of injuries – not that there is any good time to get injured, actually. “It was disappointing, to be honest. But certain things you cannot control,” he remarked of the thigh injury that necessitated surgery. “I am glad that I could contribute in that Test series win against New Zealand. But then after that, it was a disappointing injury, I had to miss a lot of Test matches. But again, every sportsman goes through that period of missing out on games through injuries. I kept myself motivated throughout those six months. I was desperate to get back but at the same time, it was important for me not to forget the process where I needed to do a lot of hard work to get back on to the field. I went through a big surgery, so you need to do a lot of work to get your strength back and to get your match-fitness back. Mentally, to just prepare yourself, it takes a lot. I guess all those six months I spent outside the field taught me a lot of things. I hope, fingers crossed, that I don’t get injured anymore.”
Having had time to reflect and ponder over things during that extended rehabilitation process, the one thing Rohit is determined to do is have fun and enjoy the process. ‘Enjoy’ is a word he uses repeatedly during the nine-minute conversation. “What I learnt from the time when I was sitting out was that anything can happen anytime, so it is important that you enjoy yourself,” he said. “Not think too much about the game, try not to take too much pressure on yourself. It is important that whatever time you have, try and make the most of it, and enjoy. Because this is what you dreamt of, representing your country, and now that you have that opportunity, make the most of it, enjoy the time on the field. These freak injuries can happen any time and you may miss out probably for a month, or maybe six months, seven, eight months, who knows. It’s important that you try and have fun.”
“It’s very simple, the fight for that spot will always be there whichever format you play, and it’s good for cricket and good for your team when you have that healthy competition around. It makes everyone step up to the challenge all the time, whenever they step on to the field. I would rather not think too much about whether I will be playing or not, which number I will bat, things like that. It doesn’t work for me, thinking too much about all those things. I try and always stick to my strengths, things that I have been doing over the years and that has helped me be wherever I am today.”
Loathe to setting goals for himself at the start of a series or a season, Rohit saw no reason to break from the norm that has fetched him results over the years. “I would like to stick to my strengths and the way I have been preparing over the years, for Test matches or ODI cricket,” he observed. “Setting goals and thinking about benchmarks will only add pressure to your performance. What I try to do is go out there in the middle is… you always know at the back of your mind that you have to score runs, as simple as that. Contribute towards the team’s success. I don’t want to take different sorts of pressure by thinking I want to score runs and do this and that. I’d rather just go out and try and enjoy the game because all the opportunities you get, you try and make the most of it, yes, but at the same time you got to enjoy it. That actually brings the best performance out. I have been trying the same over the years and it is not going to change. I know in the back of my mind what I need to do as an individual. It’s always a great feeling getting back in the whites. It has been a long time, the last Test match I played was in October; so it’s almost been a year, I am very excited to wear the whites and see what’s in store for me.”
Having got the nerves of an international comeback out of the way at the Champions Trophy, Rohit is approaching the Sri Lanka Tests a lot calmer. “I was quite nervous, to be honest, playing after more than six months for the national team at the Champions Trophy,” he admitted. “Having a good IPL, that confidence was always there. Having done well in England in the previous Champions Trophy, that was a great confidence-booster too. I always love playing in England, it is a great atmosphere, good wickets to bat on once you are in. All those things put together brought me a lot of confidence.
“Unfortunately we lost the finals (to Pakistan) but as a team, I thought we played brilliant cricket. Just that one particular game where nothing worked for us – bowling didn’t work for us, batting didn’t work for us. Those things happen and of course you learn from those things and move forward. I thought after that, the guys put up an exceptional performance in the West Indies. And yes, now we are in Sri Lanka here, trying to do what we did here last time as well (when India won the Test series 2-1).”