The year of Rohit Sharma’s tryst with World Cup destiny – The Indian Express

It was the 1996 World Cup, Rohit Sharma has said, that got him hooked to cricket. He was barely 10 then. By all accounts, it remains the least-talked-of and the most traumatic Cup experience for Indian fans. Vinod Kambli’s tears and Eden Gardens in flames had killed those billion dreams that were born after Venkatesh Prasad had shown Aamer Sohail the way to the pavilion. Ides of that distant March: 9th quarterfinals, Bangalore, to 13th semifinals, Kolkata.
Maybe, this was an early warning for the impressionable, young Rohit that sport wasn’t only about joy and triumphs. After a decade-and-a-half of experiencing all possible slips between the piping hot Cup and his eager lips, at 35, the father of a three-year-old is cricket’s ultimate World Cup tragedian.
Indian cricket, of late, too has gone wistful about ICC events. It’s been an unending tome of mishaps, misfortunes, misadventures and monumental setbacks.
The year 2023 comes with opportunities to change that — both for Rohit and the BCCI, led by president Roger Binny and secretary Jay Shah. Three big tests, of increasing difficulty, await Rohit and his team. As for the board that is called richest for the billions it has in the bank, not the silverware in the cabinet, the count is much higher.
In the year ahead, India’s cricket itinerary seems to have been planned by school academics — spaced thoughtfully, they have an important half-yearly before the big final exams later. In February, Australia tours India, where the fight is for the iconic Border-Gavaskar Trophy. For India, the series scoreline will determine if they make it to June’s World Test Championship. The nostalgia and romance of an India-Australia red ball contest notwithstanding, 2023’s main act will be the white-ball 50-overs World Cup, which will conclude late November.
With the Cup coming to its modern-day home, the pressure to keep it home will be unprecedented. The second half of 2023 will put skipper Rohit and coach Rahul Dravid under the country’s intimidating gaze. Between them they have played 5 senior 50-over World Cups, but the two have never been World Champions.
Their Cup stories have followed a similar script. Dravid missed the cut in 1996, sparkled in 1999, played the final in 2003 and was the skipper for the disastrous campaign of 2007. Rohit’s World Cup trauma dates back to his teen years.
Much before Ian Chappell, impressed by his backfoot play, called him Sachin Tendulkar’s replacement; in 2006, Rohit was India’s star batsman at the U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka. Odds on favourites, India reached the final, steamrolling all teams. Dismissing Pakistan for 109, India had one hand on the trophy, but slipped. It all ended in tears for the team of boys in blue — they were all out for 71. Rohit, 4 from 7 balls, scored the most among the Top 6.
In the 2011 World Cup squad, Rohit’s name was missing. Fate was cruel, it could well have been Rohit carrying Tendulkar on his shoulders on that dreamy April 2 Wankhede night. Mumbaikars would have wept buckets witnessing the emotional passing of baton between the city’s two batting icons in their own backyard. As it turned out, it was Virat who lifted Tendulkar during the victory lap. He would be the Master’s heir apparent, and eventually, the King.
In the 2015 edition, Rohit came close to the Cup. He scored a century in the quarter-final against Bangladesh in a sticky game to take India into the semis. Anti-climax again. India suffered a big loss against Australia in a boring one-sided contest. More pain and humiliation.
Worse was in store in 2019 —  he scored 5 hundreds, this time the team lost to New Zealand in a close semi-final. More tears, more brickbats, the curse of the 50 overs World Cup continued. Rohit was broken, like in 1996 and 2003, it was another ‘so near, yet so far’ story.
Easily the most graceful batsman of his generation, Rohit’s strokes enthrall fans but are not able to stop growing whispers of India being World Cup chokers. But fickleness is a quintessential trait of Indian cricket fans, a title at home this November can change everything, elevate him to new heights. They can even confer Dhoniness on him.
Can Rohit play the redeemer? Can India turn back the clock to the MS Dhoni era, be World Champions and also the top Test side in the world? It’s a tough ask from a less-talented team.
The Class of 2011 was far superior than the present day India regulars. Besides, the team management and BCCI haven’t learnt from past mistakes.
Old problems stare threateningly at Team India at the start of this important year. Leadership crisis, transition hiccups, uncertainty about Best XI, lack of trust on the bench and the elephant in the room — fitness.
Despite Rohit being notoriously injury-prone, India isn’t sure about a stand-in captain. KL Rahul’s elevation was a leap of faith that didn’t work. He can be the most-sought after captain in IPL, where marketability sways most leadership choices, but in internationals — Tests or limited overs games — he has been found out.
The selection committee too has lacked depth or conviction. When India great Rahul Dravid has to sit across RP Singh, a 17-Test medium-pacer, for his job interview as coach, you know this is a system with glaring flaws.
The last few ICC events — T20 and ODI World Cups — have shown that the light-weight national selectors haven’t quite lined up a cracking unit of potential world champions. Was it a case of them being under-qualified for the job or were they under-confident to force their decision on the powerful team management members like Ravi Shastri, Virat Kohli, Dravid and Rohit?
Selectors of stature — Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath — are an extinct breed. The BCCI hasn’t been able to address this root problem even when the reasons for many a World Cup debacle have been the unimaginative decisions taken in selection meetings. They don’t seem serious about addressing the issue — the selection committee doesn’t have a West Zone representative for months now.
Workload management and injury rehabilitation are two areas where the BCCI has failed spectacularly. BCCI officials often boast of having a talent pool so deep that it could put together two, or even three, national teams. In real life, to see a ‘fully-fit best playing XI’ take the field for a big game remains a pipe-dream.
Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah haven’t been prancing on the field like gazelles when India needed them the most. Their franchise teams have been far more lucky. Rohit’s breakdowns have further complicated the issue and added uncertainty to the team.
A 10-team full blown home-and-away IPL this year will keep those wanting India to win the 2023 World Cup on tenterhooks. When the league owners invest millions in teams, have expensive coaching and medical staff in their dugout, they are justified in pushing the players to strain every sinew in pursuit of the trophy. Team India’s jam-packed schedule and an extended IPL are a disastrous combination. Prayers about players’ general well-being are India’s only hope in 2023.
This is also the year when foreign T20 leagues, with teams bought by IPL owners, will kick off. Two of the most successful IPL teams — Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings — now have a presence in leagues outside India.
Will this undermine the IPL brand? Maybe not. But it will surely mean earnings from Indian cricket — IPL franchise teams get a share from telecast rights —draining into other cricketing ecosystems. These are early days, but sirens need to be ringing in the corridors of Indian cricket.
For Rohit, probably at the fag end of his international career, the problems are more immediate and pressing. Time is running out for the batsman who is said to be blessed with a lot of time to play those exquisite shots. Miracles do happen and sporting arenas are backdrops of many fairy tales.
That question again — will hold the Cup on the night of November 26, 2023? Rohit has a shot to rewrite his destiny, and airbrush his ugly World Cup past. The Mumbai boy can even make 26/11 a little less painful for his city, and his nation.
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