When American musician and Television presenter Pete Waterman said that “Everybody likes a roller coaster ride,” he probably did not keep in mind the agony of an average cricket fan, especially those group of people who tend to put their faith behind a certain Rohit Sharma.
Fanaticism and cricket are inseparable in India. The onlookers from abroad have seen fans go wild in celebration and are taken by depression when things are going bad. Australia’s Adam Gilchrist had written in his book about realising the passion for the game in India through an incident. For a 9am game at the Eden Gardens, he walked out for some practice with his teammates close to an hour ahead of the start of the match. To his surprise he found a packed stadium. Gilchrist went on to write that he figured the country’s love for the game when he saw this on a working weekday. He figured that when cricket was on, everything else in life took a back seat.
This level of association with a game often brings reactions that are at two ends of spectrum. The billion fans share common sentiment about the eleven men, who, they believe represent the entire country and also have have rather strong opinions on every nitty gritty of the game. Unfortunately, this emotional connect often meant an individual was treated on par or even above the team. For the last two decades, fans have had two separate criteria to measure success and base their reactions on them: India’s result and Sachin Tendulkar’s score. Few others, who idolised the flamboyant Sourav Ganguly would back him in his worst phase, burning effigies of erstwhile India coach Greg Chappell who had a fallout with the former captain. On days when performances don’t really go the way they are expected to, there is an outcry. From splashing black paint on Mohammad Kaif’s house after the 2003 World Cup final loss to voicing their strong opinions across forums in all types of media, fans have hardly left a stone unturned in putting their point across. They come across as two sides of a rare coin: the biggest celebrators and the worst critics.
Rohit Sharma, who has been in and around international cricket since 2007, happens to be a brilliant case study to understand the psyche of an Indian fan. His armoury includes the inch-perfect strokeplay through covers that only come in coaching manuals to lazy pokes at deliveries that could have been ignored all day long. There is style and talent combined with a dash of laziness that often creates an imbalance. It’s hard to tell if Rohit will ever be someone to rely on. Perhaps, he will be the one, who will play knocks that will be recorded and watched over and over again to admire the nuances of his exquisite strokeplay. Yet, there will be great disappointment at the fact that not always do both ends meet when it comes to this man. There is immense potential, however, yet to be utilised effectively. Everytime there is a match-turning knock from his willow, one wants to believe he can turn around the corner and play on consistently. Yet, the high rise is followed by an inevitable lull.
Rohit’s 141 not out against Australia, in what was India’s highest run chase in ODIs was probably one of the most mind-boggling display of batting. The wicket may have been a flat one but to play under the pressure of going 2-0 down to a side that was considered the weakest in a long time now would have been worse. In such extreme conditions, Rohit walked out to open the innings and put on display a fine act. If cricket was an art, Rohit’s knock wasn’t just a single painting. It was an assorted exhibition.
The debate over whether he is getting the longest rope in terms of opportunities amongst his peers like Ajinkya Rahane is a different debate all together, but Rohit’s career so far has not been short of a roller coaster ride. The highs of knocks like these will most probably be followed by a free fall. It’s hard to tell when the next rise will come along, but when it will, it will take his appreciators along. They, like always, will be happy to ride the tide. Irrespective of the knock at the Sawai Mansingh stadium, Rohit has a long way to go before becoming a nation’s on-field icon.
One probably needs to leave it in the Mumbai cricketer’s hands to prove Pete Waterman wrong.