It must have been an open-and-shut case for the Indian cricket board when they decided to nominate Rohit Sharma for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award last week – the highest honours for any active sportsperson in the country.
A look at the roll of honour over the years for this award, instituted in 1991-’92, shows that despite cricket being the so-called religion in India – only two from the sport has received it so far: Sachin Tendulkar (1997-’98) and Virat Kohli (2018). This certainly underlines the gravitas of the honour and few will disagree that if it goes to a third cricketer – it’s got to be Rohit, India’s ruling deity in white ball cricket.
The criterion for the award speaks about a sportsperson’s body of work from 2016 till the current year, but it’s a fair call to say that the opener’s superhuman efforts last year surely had been the clincher. A bit of figure-crunching will help here : 2,442 runs from 47 international innings overall at an average of 53.08.
One can certainly break it down to greater details: an unprecedented five centuries in the ICC World Cup where Rohit was the highest scorer in the tournament, a sensational Test debut as opener at the age of 32 (yes, you may wonder what took him so long) where he scored 529 runs at a stunning average of 132.25 in the home series against South Africa. And yes, he scored seven centuries across all formats during the year – with only Tendulkar being the other Indian to have scored more than him (nine).
The figures are mindboggling, but that’s not only where the joy of watching Rohit in full flow lies. During the last World Cup in England, he has often maintained that he doesn’t pursue his craft with records in mind – and the gay abandon with which he goes about his job only underlines his philosophy. Be it white ball cricket where he is virtually unstoppable for several years now, or in his 2.0 avatar in Test cricket, it’s the combination of sweet timing and supple wrists which makes him such a delight to watch.
If there is any new-found attribute to his batting, it’s easily been the hunger to convert those delightful starts into a big innings. A good example will be to reflect over his centuries in the World Cup again – Rohit displayed an uncharacteristic, gritty self in surviving - sometimes scratching about - to score the first century in their Cup opener against South Africa. It was, however, a completely different story against a potent Pakistan attack where he was again driving handsomely and launching into those huge pull shots effortlessly.
If there is a latent cricketing rivalry between Kohli and him - and much was made about it following India’s semi-final exit last year - it’s certainly Indian cricket which had been the beneficiary so far. However, the decision makers of Indian cricket should now actively consider another overdue honour for Rohit the leader – that of at least handing him the T20 captaincy.
A good thinker of the game and a self-confessed follower of the M.S.Dhoni style of ‘cool’ captaincy, Rohit - at 33 - certainly deserves this one given the substantial number of T20 matches India play every year. Apart from standing in for Kohli as an able leader in white ball cricket time and again successfully, he has shown a better capability than many to absorb pressure by leading the Mumbai Indians to four Indian Premier League titles - the highest by any team.
If that doesn’t qualify him for the post, what will?