From Oval and Ahmedabad heartbreak to Barbados bounty – third time lucky for Rohit the skipper

There were 27 needed off 28 balls and it seemed like Rohit Sharma was yet again staring at heartbreak. As skipper, it would be the third time in nine months. That’s when it is all in the mind. Most give up. And if the skipper does so, shoulders drop all round. Against Heinrich Klaasen, who had plundered Axar Patel for 24 runs in an over and negated Kuldeep Yadav, the captain had very few options to turn to. Against all odds, he went to Hardik Pandya.
It may not have been as startling as MS Dhoni going to Joginder Sharma in 2007, but it was certainly close. He did not go to Jasprit Bumrah. Rather, Rohit went to Pandya. One poor over, and it was finished. Pandya, castigated by all and sundry a month earlier, was now bowling the most important six balls of his life. And under someone he had replaced as skipper for the Mumbai franchise. 

Off the very first ball, he got Klaasen. Rohit, somehow, found a magic wand. The match wasn’t over yet. Still very much in South Africa’s favour, but India weren’t out of it. In the very next over, he went to Bumrah and it was yet again a bold call. Normally, Bumrah bowls the 19th. Here, he was bowling the 18th because Rohit wanted one more wicket to peg South Africa back. Marco Jansen, the last recognised all-rounder, was out there and it was a calculated risk. If Bumrah managed to get the wicket, Rohit could get Hardik to bowl the 20th and get out of jail. Had he failed, South Africa would have cantered home. Bumrah delivered, as he so often does, and Rohit’s reaction said it all. From a run a ball, Hardik had 16 runs to defend in the final over. 

A fantastic catch from Suryakumar Yadav added to the drama, and all of a sudden, Rohit could smell the silverware. The world trophy that had so far eluded him as captain, and that he so richly deserved, was finally within touching distance. He played two blinders this tournament, and his innings against Australia was comparable to Sachin Tendulkar’s Centurion knock against Pakistan in 2003 and Virat Kohli’s Melbourne miracle in 2022. For someone to play these innings as skipper and yet fall short would have been a travesty. The cricket Gods too did not want that. And hence, that one boundary from Kagiso Rabada in the last over wasn’t enough. Pandya kept it tight and, finally, Rohit was world champion. 

Rohit Sharma, Team India skipper
Rohit Sharma, Team India skipper (PC: X)

I go back to an interaction with Rohit in Bengaluru in February 2020, months after the 2019 World Cup. Juggling a cricket ball, Rohit was mumbling to himself. “Five hundreds don’t matter,” he had said then. “The real trophy is in the other dressing room. We need to win a world title. Unless we do so, there’s no point scoring hundreds.” 

For him, individual records don’t matter. Never did. What matters is what his team does. As leader, the buck stops with him. And yesterday, in Barbados, he made sure that the cricket world will forever look at Rohit in awe – he led his team to a world title just months after making the 50-over final. And it is no surprise that he decided to call it a day and walk off into sunset. For him, it was never about holding on to his place. It was about doing the job and leaving the game in a better place. Getting millions of fans to celebrate, and walk away having enriched the sport. Having done that, he is now happily retired from T20 internationals. 

Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma
Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma (PC: Debasis Sen)

Sport is all about timing and Rohit couldn’t have chosen his moment better. As he sleeps in Barbados with the world trophy, he will know that it has been a journey well-travelled. Sport taught him how to lose and, in doing so, readied him for success. And now, he is world champion – a title that no one can ever take away from him. Good guys do come first. Well played, captain.