“Aa gaya, aa gaya,” quipped Ashish Nehra when he greeted Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Thursday. The Gujarat Titans were done with their practice and the support staff was lazing on the greens when the light spell of drizzle forced the ground-staff to cover the entire square but ensure the arrangements are in place for MI’s session.
Both Rohit and Nehra would exchange a joke or two, burst into laughter before the captain, in company of three side-arms and a leg-spinner from Scotland, started batting in light rain.
After the Eliminator in Chennai on May 24, MI took an early flight and reached Ahmedabad at 5:30 am next morning. While all players preferred to cool their heels in the plush Taj Skyline property, the captain, who hasn’t had an ideal season with the bat, wanted a hit. There were no bowlers from the MI camp accompanying Rohit and even Thomas Jones, the leggie from Scotland, was loaned by GT. Plenty were deposited into the stands, many were miscued, different bats were used during the 45-minute session but what stood out was Rohit’s intent ahead of the knockout fixture.
It was more than what was meeting the eye in Ahmedabad. Here was a player with six IPL titles – five as captain of MI and one as player with Deccan Chargers – putting in that extra yard to leave a lasting legacy in a format where the kind of success he has tasted is second to none. The opponent he is up against is led by Hardik Pandya who has won the title five times – four as player with MI and one as GT captain last season – and could potentially meet MS Dhoni – with four IPL titles for CSK under his belt - in the final.
Rohit hasn’t had the domination with the bat in the format like a Virat Kohli but has a trophy cabinet with six IPL titles and has also been part of the 2007 Indian team which won the inaugural T20 World Cup. Not many took MI seriously in the first half of IPL 2023 and injuries to first choice bowling attack only made life difficult for the team. But here they are just one win away from another IPL final appearance, and another final appearance under Rohit, whose reputation as a leader continues to grow.
Rohit means business
Unlike previous editions where he has had services of the Pandya brothers, Jasprit Bumrah, Kieron Pollard and other star players, Rohit had a very batting heavy side to deal with in absence of Jofra Archer and Jhye Richardson this year. The likes of Piyush Chawla, Akash Madhwal and Jason Behrendorff rose to the challenge and delivered game-changing performances to first keep MI in the race to knockouts and then become the playoffs beasts of the past.
15 innings, 324 runs at an average of 21.60 are below-par numbers and Rohit was putting in the hard yards to improve on them and contribute for his side in the big game. The big game, read Playoffs, numbers don’t make an encouraging read either but there was no dearth of intent to turn it around. Against the side-arms, Rohit would sit deep in his crease and absolutely muscle them into the stands.
The skates were on against the leg-spinner as the right-hander constantly got to the pitch of the ball and lofted them straight and long. There were some miscues and mishits along the way but the ball was making a sweet sound every time the MI skipper made a good connection.
No one knows how long Rohit is going to play this format or in this league but the 36-year-old is giving it to all. May it be the fielding efforts in the Eliminator against LSG or the intensity in the nets throughout the season, the hunger for success is very much intact and it’s a matter of time before a seven-course feast is dished out from his willow. There is more to this player who has come across as the laid-back and chill character. A character his teammates have termed carefree and bindaas on numerous occasions but behind that thin layer of chill, is a man who means, and has meant, business!
What if Rohit doesn’t do well in the Playoffs? What if Mumbai Indians fail to book a final date with Chennai Super Kings? What will happen to Rohit’s legacy? What if…?
Absolutely nothing will change even if the next two fixtures don’t go Rohit’s way. Both as player and captain he has achieved what many greats haven’t even come close to. If the results go their way, it will only enhance his legacy and, again, nothing will change if they don’t.
Half-way into Rohit’s intense session, Nehra made an appearance and wanted the MI captain to face a different bowler in the nets. Nehra’s son Aarush. The young left-armer bowled a high full toss which was respectfully defended by Rohit. There were smiles all around before Nehra junior ran to do some catching drills with tennis ball and Rohit was back to range hitting.
By the time the session ended, the stadium DJ has tested his speakers, the ground-staff had ensured overnight rain, if any, doesn’t affect conditions much and Rohit, drenched in sweat, obliged some Gujarat Cricket Association volunteers before taking the long stair case to the dressing room. He will walk down the same staircase today when MI take on GT in Qualifier 2 and would like to add another glittering chapter.