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Boy For The Big Innings

May 8, 2007

The fourth in our Mission Tomorrow series: Rohit Sharma.

One name conspicuous by its absence from the Indian squads for the about-to-start Test and one-day series in Bangladesh is that of Rohit Sharma. The highly promising Mumbai player had enormous talent and solid performance to back him. And considering that the selectors were in a mood to give chances to youngsters against a minnow like Bangladesh in the wake of the collective failure of our senior cricketers in the World Cup, his inclusion in either the Test or the one-day team was almost a foregone conclusion. But it was not to be; Sharma will have to wait a bit longer before he gets to turn his dream of playing for Team India into reality.

Sharma is one of those members of India's bright young brigade about whom almost everyone has only praise to offer. He is such a prodigiously talented right-hand batsman and capable off-spinner. He has been very impressive with the bat in every type of cricket in which he has paraded his skills so far. If anything, he matched his idol and Mumbai team-mate Sachin Tendulkar when he hit the bowlers with sheer disdain in the recent interstate Twenty20 cricket tournament. Why, he even overshadowed Tendulkar, among others, on occasions.

Born in Bansod, Nagpur, on April 30, 1987, Sharma is a product of tennis ball cricket that is being played regularly in every nook and cranny of Mumbai by youngsters. By the time he changed gears and switched to the traditional leather ball cricket, he was a much better cricketer and well-equipped to face challenges. It is one quality to be able to accept the challenge that has always stood the precociously gifted Sharma in good stead. For one so young, he never gets overawed by reputations of the bowlers.

His confidence, more than his technical excellence, is the key to his success. And he is a man in a hurry. Or so it seems. He has not looked back since he began playing for Mumbai Under-14. Having excelled for Mumbai Under-17, too, it was but natural that he got selected for the special training at National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, especially after he scored a spirited century against Baroda Under-17.

His stint at the NCA was pretty eventful. He honed his talents under the watchful eyes of different experts and scored really heavily for the NCA and scored bristling centuries against Air India and Indian Airlines. He already had scored an unbeaten 143 (188 balls, 15x4, 3x6) for West Zone versus North Zone in the Col. Hemu Adhikari inter-academy tournament at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.

His splendid showing while at the NCA got him into the Mumbai team for the Irani Cup, played at Mohali. But he I could not go to Mohali because of "personal reasons". Then the Aussies toured India and he was selected in the 15-member Mumbai Cricket Association President's XI to play against them. But he was not chosen in the final eleven. Nevertheless, he did feel "very encouraged" by such recognition at such a young age in his budding career.

A very strong backfoot player, Sharma relishes fast bowling and is never ever afraid of playing his shots, which he appears to have in abundance. He has almost a connoisseur's penchant for playing his favourite square-cut and straight-drive. He is naturally aggressive and his style perfectly suits one-day cricket and the new-fangled Twenty20, where brutal, sustained attack is the name of the game.

Brilliant eyesight, strong wrists, swift timing and ability to judge the line of the ball early enable Sharma to handle speedsters as well as spinners with aplomb. But his batting is not all about raw power only. He can adjust his game to the prevailing circumstances and play defensively as well. The ease with which he drives in front and plays the inside-out strokes is a testimony to his immense batting potential. One of the more endearing things about Sharma is that he executes ground shots just about as naturally as he plays the lofted ones with amazing power.

Sharma has built a reputation for himself as a big innings player right from his early days. Even for the Indian Under-17, Under-19 and India A, he has often scored with a fair degree of prolificacy. He was one of the few Indians who left his imprint on the Youth World Cup in Sri Lanka.

An unconquered 142 off 123 deliveries, inclusive of 14 fours and 3 sixes, for West Zone against North Zone in the Deodhar Trophy in Udaipur in March 2006 brought Sharma into further national reckoning. His delightful knock helped his team win the tie by 8 wickets.

He was very impressive while representing India A in the Eurasia Cup in Abu Dhabi, essaying 2 stroke-filled fifties in three matches, including 62 versus Pakistan A. He had a good outing down under, too, scoring 181 runs in five matches against the likes of Shaun Tait and claiming 6 wickets in the Top End series. He had already scored a century and picked six wickets in the warm-up game leading into the series.

His creditable performances in Abu Dhabi and Australia enabled him to be picked as one of the 30 probables for the ICC Champions Trophy, which was played in India late last year. Though they expectedly did not select him in the final squad, the selectors more than hinted at what they thought of Sharma. He subsequently figured in the day-night NKP Salve Challenger Series and eventually made his first-class debut for Mumbai against Bengal.

He played no small a role in helping Mumbai win the national championship in his very first Ranji Trophy season, scoring 531 runs at 48.27 in 8 matches, including 1 century and 4 half-centuries. His only hundred, a masterly 205 off 267 balls, came against Gujarat on a deteriorating surface. It was his fourth Ranji Trophy match.

Gujarat again bore the full brunt of Sharma's brute force when he blasted an undefeated 101 off merely 49 balls against it in Mumbai in the national Twenty20 tournament, becoming the first and only Indian to smash a century in this newest version of the game. His awesome innings was packed with 13 fours and 5 sixes. He subsequently went on to dominate the Group B matches played at Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Motera near Ahmedabad even as Mumbai failed to reach the final.

Prior to that, Sharma had scored a breezy 48 under floodlights against Rajasthan in the final of the Ranji Trophy One-Day Tournament, which Mumbai won by 72 runs, at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.

Indeed, there seems to be just no stopping Sharma, whose youthful aggression and hunger for success are in keeping with the spirit of Generation Next. Considering the kind of cricket that is seen today, and the hardcore professionalism and sheer ruthlessness with which it is expected to be played in the 21st century, Sharma appears to be just the right tonic the doctors may have prescribed for Indian cricket. Surely, future belongs to players like Sharma. The ball is certainly not in Sharma's court. Rather it is in the selectors' now. It is up to them how to make the most of Sharma's exuberance and exciting talents.

Reportage: Haresh Pandya
Photograph: Reuben NV
Design: Imran Shaikh

Also read:

Rohit Sharma interview
   What others say about Rohit

Earlier Mission Tomorrow Specials:

  • Cheteshwar Pujara: A talent for tomorrow
  • Subramaniam Badrinath: Waiting for the call
  • Robin Uthappa: Runs resurrect Robin

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