In 2012, on India’s tour of Sri Lanka, a certain middle order batsman made 13 runs in five outings for the visitors. That sort of return is enough to end careers, if one is not fortunate or talented enough. But Rohit Sharma certainly had the talent and, perhaps more importantly, had the backing of his captain MS Dhoni after a tour like that.
Not long after, he turned his career around. Today, he is one of the game’s best white-ball openers and is potentially heading towards all-time-great status when it comes to top-order batsmen in the 50-over format.
That evolution of Rohit happened because of his talent and Dhoni’s trust, said former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir.
“I remember Rohit had a miserable Sri Lanka tour,” Gambhir told anchor Jatin Sapru on Star Sports’ ‘Cricket Connected’ show. “When we returned I Whatsapp’d him (probably the first time I did that to anyone), saying that he is going to rule Indian cricket. I knew he had the talent and good on MS Dhoni that he backed him. You have to give a lot of credit to Dhoni for the evolution of Rohit and for making him open the batting. Not a lot of players have been backed the way Rohit has been.”
A large part of Rohit’s turnaround has been his success an opener in ODIs. Even though he had opened a few times in 2011, the experiment started properly in 2013 when the Mumbaikar was making a comeback to the Indian side.
“I remember the first time Rohit opened the batting (when he was making a comeback in 2013) was with me in Mohali against England. He made a half century then and since he then he hasn’t looked back,” Gambhir said.
Dhoni’s gamble with trusting Rohit as an opening batsman is now legendary.
“We felt he was bit of a waste of talent if he was batting at No 6 for us because more often than not he wasn’t getting enough chance to bat as our top-order was quite fixed. We couldn’t really make him play or give him enough opportunities,” Dhoni had said once.
In fact, 2013 was the watershed year for Sharma. It saw his career take a permanent upswing. His promotion triggered a dramatic turn in fortunes. He went on to play a key role in India’s Champions Trophy triumph in England, scored an ODI double-century against Australia, and guided Mumbai Indians to their first IPL title after being handed captaincy.
Responding to a question about how Rohit’s success as an opener shows that the criticism that comes his way sometimes regarding his fitness is unfair, Gambhir played down the need for six packs for someone to be a good batsman.
“You don’t need to be a fitness freak, you don’t have to have chiselled bodies and six packs, that is no criteria for being a successful international cricketer. If you are match-fit, you know you can bat for 50 overs, you can bat in the Sri Lankan heat and bat an entire day in Test cricket, that is all you want from a batsman. And he is a brilliant fielder too, very under-rated,” Gambhir added.
You can watch the entire episode of Cricket Connected on Disney+Hotstar here.