When a FAN mentions Rohit Sharma, it usually conjures up a sense of calm. But Sharma is not always calm. He has a determined grit to get the job done, to make sure he keeps pace with the best in the world and, then, to beat the best in the world.
He is an alpha athlete, a man who’s poised to become one of the biggest names in cricket. And, as anyone knows, alpha athletes don’t follow. They lead. They don’t hesitate or tire. They are a cut above and a step ahead, able to out-think and outperform their opponents. They don’t allow the game to run them. They run the game.
In the first week of March, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the new A+ category, the elite group that plays international cricket in all formats, and Sharma’s inclusion is a natural progression of the athlete he his.
“People will talk about your game, skills, ability, etc. and it’s good to hear those things. But it doesn’t change anything,” says Sharma. That’s the kind of man he is. Frank. Candid. Straight shooter. “[To my younger self] I’d say that I would have loved to have someone like me when I was young, someone who understands and thinks about the game so much. When I started, I had only a few guys I’d talk to. But you have to dream about what you want in your life. Because we know dreams come true. And, most important, you have to be disciplined.”
RUN WITH YOURSELF
Sharma didn’t disappoint anyone in his first-ever T20 international tri-series assignment where India emerged triumphant despite the absence of many key players. When it comes to the T20 format, not even the great M.S. Dhoni can compete with Sharma! Dhoni may have won back-to-back IPL trophies but Sharma has won the IPL title on three occasions, the most in the series’ decade-old history.
“There is little doubt that he is one of the sharpest. I will go on to say that currently no one reads the game better than him and that is a big statement, since you have MSD and Kohli still playing,” says former India opener Aakash Chopra.
No one wins the championship from seemingly hopeless situations as well as Sharma. Just recall the nail-biting final in 2017 when Pune almost won the trophy—the way he kept his cool and led his troops from the front was inspirational—he wants to win, and he wants others to want it, too.
“The locker or changing room will always be tense because you want to go and achieve something. How I deal with it is that I send a strong message to my teammates by staying calm and not panicking. The belief has to be there that if the first two overs didn’t go your way, the next two will,” says Sharma confidently. Over the last couple of years, India has got two fine talents in Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah, and they have both blossomed under Sharma’s IPL captaincy. “As a captain, I am hugely impressed with his understanding of the game. He understands the flows and patterns beautifully. He knows when a particular bowler should finish his quota,” adds Chopra.
Sharma is fit enough to shoulder this responsibility, and he shoulders it with passion. Has it changed him? “It has changed a lot of things in my life and it has changed me as a person, too. I enjoy responsibility because it’s something that has taught me many things—not just in cricket but how
I should handle myself off the field. It’s not an easy thing to do and it doesn’t come to anyone overnight. In whatever we do, we need to enjoy ourselves. And that’s what I try to do,” he says.
This is a side of him that he rarely shows to the public, but something that his teammates have come to appreciate. Sharma, of course, is very matter-of-fact about it. “It’s about the camaraderie that I share with my teammates. Because you play with each other for so many years, you know you have to share a good rapport, share one another’s successes, failures and stand by them in their bad times. And I just try to do that,” he says.
Even when he’s not training or playing, he maintains the same demeanour. He trains hard, puts in the miles, does the arduous, repetitive work. But he’s also conscious that an athlete has to train both body and mind. “When I’m not playing any match, it’s more about recovery, because India is the only nation which plays so much cricket throughout the year. So, for us, it’s important to focus on our recovery. Fitness is the most important thing for an athlete. Because whatever you do on the field, fitness will enhance your skills,” says Sharma.
For him, running is a passion and one of the critical ways to temper yourself. Being a world-class athlete means he has to be fit, but it also means that he has to be at ease with fitness protocols. His time in the gym includes both strength and stamina training, with special emphasis on the core. Over the years, as he has clocked more and more miles, he has come closer to understanding the kind of sportsperson—and man—that he is.
RUN WITH PASSION
It has been argued that captaincy transformed Sharma, and it happened in 2013 when Mumbai Indians became champions for the first time. Prior to this tournament, Sharma went through a rough patch—from December 2011 to August 2012, he had a total of just 212 runs in 15 matches, with an average of 15.14. In January 2013, he was asked to open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan to chase 258 at Mohali against England. His thumping 83 off 93 deliveries resulted in a five-wicket win.
This is classic Sharma, because he bucks the downturns to push himself and really up the ante. As an athlete, he’s not the kind who makes a big deal about pushing himself, but that’s exactly what he does. He galvanises himself, and displays this quality in every aspect of his life. It’s about equilibrium. “Considering the amount of cricket we play, it’s tough at times [to strike that balance]. We need some time off from cricket, and my family, friends help me find that balance. It’s a beautiful balance of life I have right now. My wife has played a big role in this. She understands me and the demands of the game. I am always away for matches, and I know she doesn’t like me being away (laughs). She is very sweet, she puts my life before hers and I try to do the same, so we kind of complement each other really well.”
Sharma has been a part of the Adidas roster for many years, rubbing shoulders with the best of the best, and playing across the world has unleashed a side of him that he himself probably wasn’t aware of. He is a fighter, competitive to the core, but unfazed on the surface of it. “To be honest, Adidas has been a great addition to my life. Not just because it’s a world-class brand and a sporting giant,” he says.
Being in the mix has helped him temper himself, and his partnership goes beyond; it is a matter of pride. He adds, “The new Run The Game campaign is great. I’m a part of it because of my commitment to cricket. Lifestyles in India changed many years ago, and people have taken up fitness as part of their lives. I would encourage everyone to be a part of that lifestyle and include fitness in their daily routines. It’s important that we take care of our health. And motivation starts with the mind, so we should start training our minds as well.”
With Sharma, it’s never been about appearances. It’s plain evolution, he argues. “Over the last 10 years, a lot of things have changed. When I made my debut as a 20-year-old, I was young, immature, not so experienced. But with time, you get to learn so many things. I understand things a lot better now. I don’t make impulsive decisions and I have learnt from the mistakes I have made in the past. One has to go through that process,” he says.
RUN WITH THE LEAD
The 2013 series was only the fourth time Sharma had opened an innings in ODIs. Since that 83 in Mohali, his numbers are 4,616 runs at an average of 55.61 and strike rate of 91.51, with 15 hundreds and 146 sixes in 94 matches. And Sharma is the only player to have scored a record three double tons in this format. “If you dig out the numbers, it will demonstrate how some players thrive with the added responsibility. Rohit is a perfect blend of Dhoni and Kohli,” says Irfan Pathan, who was part of the victorious T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 along with Sharma.
In hindsight, it would appear that victory rejuvenates him. And it’s not just victory, it is the gruelling regimen that goes into it. Members of the team are often amazed to see that Sharma keeps himself fit for the long haul, as well as for quick bursts of power. This is the result of a lot of hard training, both mental and physical. In fact, running has also changed this aspect of him. He’s become more patient, able to go the distance without fatigue.
“The best thing about him is that he is very bindaas. He is least bothered about what the media is saying or writing or what is going on in social media. He knows that once he gets runs, people will only talk about his game,” says former Mumbai Indians coach Lalchand Rajput.
Sharma also enjoys tremendous goodwill among his peers for being generous, uncomplicated and cool. Former Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain Gautam Gambhir wrote a moving column in which he praised Sharma’s personality. A couple of seasons ago, former India bowler Praveen Kumar—who has played many matches together with Sharma for India—was given a fresh lease when Sharma brought him to the IPL, which Kumar openly acknowledges.
But Sharma has his own assessment of these moments, and it is not too dramatic or emotional. Balance. That’s what he’s about. “Of course, captaincy means a lot to me. Especially leading your country, it’s a big honour and I enjoy that. It was a real proud moment. Things don’t stop here, and I have a lot more to achieve. But you have to understand that captaincy is not just about one individual, it’s about the entire unit because you need the support of the team—support staff, players—and without them things won’t be easy en route to your success. The entire unit is equally important because when you win, everything looks good for a captain; and when you lose, the captain is held responsible for it. That is what the challenge of the sport is. And I do enjoy the challenge because if you want to become a successful sportsperson, you have to find ways to overcome the challenge,” he says.
This temperament is what has kept him under the intense glare of fans and critics alike. “He is fearless and that’s his best quality. Some players take time to blossom and some take chances suddenly. Rohit has been on and off sometimes but he compensates that with his awe-inspiring hitting prowess,” adds Rajput, who has seen Sharma from his childhood and was India’s coach during the early stage of the latter’s international career.
Sharma’s teammates remember his decisive contributions in important matches. His match-winning hundred at Port Elizabeth during the recent tour of South Africa is an indication. “I have said it before, that Rohit Sharma is an effortless player. He makes it look so easy and there is no question that he will only get better and better,” says former South African cricketer Allan Donald. A lot of it has to do with Sharma’s mental makeup and his fitness.
RUN WITH YOUR OWN PACE
His teammates know that Sharma is tough as nails, and will never be content. “He has got the power and strokes of Sachin Tendulkar and the timing of Sunil Gavaskar. How long can one keep him quiet in Tests?” asks Rajput. Say that to Sharma, and he will defer to his training and his fitness. He isn’t the kind to make a big deal of the kind of effort he puts into his fitness, even though it may not seem so on the face of it. Through some intense sessions that include kettlebell moves, bench work and, of course, hours upon hours in the nets, Sharma has honed his natural talent. It is difficult for people to understand the kind of stamina one needs to play for hours on end—a factor Sharma attributes to his running protocols.
Sharma is like a stone, too, and failures don’t overwhelm him—a superb quality. But fanfare and success come with their own sets of challenges. Sharma has always taken it in his stride. “I wouldn’t say expectations are a burden, because it’s such a heavy and negative word. I would say it’s a responsibility. Living up to the expectations is a good responsibility, and I quite enjoy it. If you think it as a burden, then you are doing yourself a favour. I am not here to do any favours, I am here to make a point,” he says.
For an athlete who has gone up against the best of them and still left his mark, and is continually creating on the fly, he has charted his own way. Says Sharma, “I don’t set long-term goals. I don’t think it’s healthy. My short-term goals have always helped me. I would like to stick to that.”
Sharma’s tips to run the game, some of the moves he swears by...
1. Add interval sprints of 200–800 m to your workout to build endurance and 40–100 m sprints for speed
2. Employ single-leg squats, at least six to 12 times on each leg to add strength
3. Work the kettlebell, with moves such as woodchops and deadlifts, which work your entire body and help you run better
4. Develop muscle memory by doing a few slow long runs to test your body, followed by enough rest. And don’t run too hard in the beginning, pace yourself
Source: Sports Illustrated India