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T20 World Cup 2024: Behind laid-back athlete lurks a shrewd leader

Rohit Sharma's tactical acumen was to the fore once again as India defended an underwhelming total against Pakistan.
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 16:10 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2024, 16:10 IST

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New York: Rohit Sharma’s abundant girth is a butt of jokes. He knows it. He even laughs about it. Once, he announced during a casual conversation with journalists that he would rather eat a good meal and bat poorly than starve and bat well. He was joking. We thought. 

Luckily though, he has enough skill with the bat to offset his dietary choices. And that is all that should matter, Yo-Yo tests be damned. 

Despite the talk around his shape, his easy-on-the-eye batting, his sudden acts of athleticism on the field and his ability to be a wonderful leader with exceptional decision-making abilities aren't lost on anyone. 

It has been on show for the Mumbai Indians in the five titles they have to show for. 

It was on show during the 50-over World Cup, save for the final day against Australia. 

Sunday, though, was an art exhibition, one which summarised the years he has spent being the man with the ear on the ground as the ebbs and flows of a fickle format washed over. 

Asked to bat first, which many assumed was a death knell, India were off to a cracker, courtesy Rohit himself - a sweetly-timed six, plucked from outside the middle stump, and dispatched over the deep square leg fence. 

Rohit would try and same stroke again off the same bowler - Shaheen Shah Afridi - and depart in the third over. India had lost Virat Kohli the previous over so to say they were in a spot of bother is an understatement. 

Interestingly, India’s designated No.3 -- Rishabh Pant -- was joined by Axar Patel, not Suryakumar Yadav, not Shivam Dube. 

Before the rationale behind the decision sank in, Axar had 11 runs off of Afridi’s first three deliveries in his third over. India scored 14 runs in that over.

Axar’s 18-ball 20 may be relegated to a footnote in time to come, but that knock meant India would enjoy a 30-ball 39-run alliance for the third wicket. This on a pitch which was now beginning to get sticky.

“From the first match, Rohit bhai has been clear that the only batting spots which are fixed are those of the openers. Everything below that is flexible,” said Axar Patel in the mixed zone, following India’s victory. 

“I got a brief before walking out to not slog wildly, and to play proper cricketing shots. My role was to make the new ball a bit older and allow the lower order to go for it. I was asked to play as long as possible.” 

That has Rohit written all over it. 

All he, meaning the team, has to do is hang in there, ‘play as long as possible’, and wait for opponents to crack. That was the ideology behind him holding Jasprit Bumrah back for the final push when someone without Rohit’s experience would have called on the pacer sooner. 

After picking up a wicket for nine runs in his first two overs, Bumrah was taken off the attack. In Bumrah’s absence, Pakistan made merry, cruising to 80 for 3 in 14 overs, meaning they needed another 40 runs from 36 balls. 

Typically, that’s a gettable total in any format. Typically, that’s a lot harder when Bumrah has 12 deliveries left in the bank. 

Rohit brought his ace back in the 15th over. Got rid of Mohammad Rizwan off the first ball. Pakistan now needed 37 from 30. 

Still gettable, but six more from Bumrah to go, and he was brought on for the penultimate over where he conceded three runs and picked up the wicket of Iftikhar Ahmed. Eighteen runs off the final over was too much for Pakistan to handle.

This entire time, Rohit’s field placements had been immaculate. Sure, it’s easier to set conventional fields on a pitch which is acting up, but he had tweaked them to precision, accounting for bowlers, batters and situations. 

Besides, when picking the team, Rohit has been shrewd in packing the playing XI with all-rounders to get as much purchase as possible. The fact that he stuck with Dube for this game speaks volumes of his intentions.  

“This line-up allows the team to get balance. He (Rohit) has the cushion to play according to the wicket. When he has six bowling options, it’s very useful. Plus, playing these many all-rounders also helps us lengthen our tail. That’s Rohit bhai’s plan,” added Axar.

Again, it’s easy to chuckle about Rohit’s throwback aesthetic, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of ignoring the tactical brilliance of a laid-back leader.

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Published 10 June 2024, 16:10 IST

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