Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli have been some of the iconic batsmen who have commanded a huge fan-following with their sensational deeds in limited overs cricket. The modern generation of cricket fans loves the Rohit-like aggression on the field, batsman confronting the bowler, the ensuing battle a treat for the connoisseurs of the game.

Behind the amazing stroke player that he is, Rohit has an enviable humility to his character. Diya, for whom this cricketer from Mumbai is a complete package of what a sports icon should be, says, ‘I can confidently say that I have never seen a man as humble as Rohit. He will talk to you like he has known you for years. He remains grounded no matter what. And I think that is something we don’t see a lot these days. His persistence, leadership skills, rags-to-riches story, and standing up for what he believes in with all the wonderful initiatives he takes up—whether it is rhino conservation or raising awareness about protecting the environment, I think all these things make him the perfect person to look up to.’

Here is an anecdote that brings out the role model in Rohit. Diya has been fortunate to meet him thrice and had this to share. ‘I first met him back in 2016, as a nervous tenth grader who was about to give her preliminary exams. When I was introduced to him, I was shaking. He noticed that and immediately tried to lighten things up and made me feel extremely comfortable. The second time was just after MI’s 2017 IPL victory and when we met him, coincidentally, the match highlights were going
on in that room. He explained the last two overs ball by ball to us and what he was telling the bowlers to do. For a moment it felt like we were a part of the game. In April 2019, I was invited by MI with a few other fans to celebrate his birthday with him and we spent more than an hour together—he cut the cake with us, gave time and spoke to each one of us and even gave “us” presents. Imagine, someone of his stature spending time with his fans on his birthday. He is a gem. Meeting him always feels like meeting a family member, he makes you feel that way.’

It is this aspect of Rohit that endears him to the cricket world. His smile is infectious and brings loads of pleasantness to the dressing room. He steps up to assume all the responsibility associated with a match-winner. Nothing perturbs him because of his self-belief. The greater the challenge, the better is Rohit’s response.

That Rohit is a modest man is well established. He will be the first to acknowledge with a nod a good delivery by the opponent. Misdemeanours have not been a part of his behaviour, whether on or off the field. He loves to compete and seeks to take on the best. This makes him a strong cricketer, and his teammates have benefited from his positive attitude.

There is a firm belief in the Mumbai Indians and Team India dressing room that Rohit is the most calming influence during tough situations. He takes joy in motivating the partner in the middle, often taking on the best bowler of the day, and never shying from shielding his fellow batsman from challenges from the opponents. Throw Rohit a challenge and expect a robust response. Much to the delight of the spectators, this attacking opener often gives them a feast of runs.

Rohit grew up hearing tales of some legendary cricketers, some local heroes, and drew inspiration from the performances of players such as Wasim Jaffer and Amol Muzumdar, who served Mumbai cricket with distinction. The pride of representing Mumbai is not to be missed whenever Rohit turns out for his state. Rohit made a conscious effort not to copy anyone. He was always looking to establish his own identity and he did, emerging as an integral part of Indian team as well.

Rohit is a natural when it comes to taking charge at the crease. Just as a Viv Richards or a Sehwag, if the first ball presented to him a juicy opportunity to play a shot, Rohit does not hesitate. Sehwag’s policy was that the ball was supposed to be hit. Just because a half-volley happens to be the first ball the batsman faces does not necessarily evoke a defensive shot. Rohit has always looked forward to establishing early dominance.

Manoj Prabhakar, a cricketer who worked hard on his batting, advocated a positive approach whatever be the challenge. He says, ‘You don’t gain by falling on defence just because the challenge is huge. I learnt early in my career never to discard my natural game. Sometimes it cost me my wicket. I am glad Rohit has not compromised with the task given to him. He is your best batsman after Kohli and must be given the freedom to pursue his natural flair. We have seen many times how Rohit walks in and takes charge in no time. That comes from his penchant to dominate.’

Excerpted with permission from The Hitman: The Rohit Sharma Story by Vijay Lokapally and G Krishnan, Bloomsbury.