A day after Rohit Sharma ran Suryakumar Yadav out in the Indian Premier League final, the latter struck a gaming analogy. “It’s like our FIFA (PS4) matches. I may be in a scoring position, but if I see Rohit in a better scoring position, I will pass the ball to him. And I am sure he will also do the same. In the end, our team scores,” Yadav told The Indian Express.
In the end, the run-out was inconsequential, but Yadav’s explanation illustrated the infinite trust a player has in his captain and the implication that he would go to any extent for the leader. A few days ago, Jasprit Bumrah dwelled on the freedom Sharma empowers him with: “He (Rohit) has always given me the freedom, he has always told me to express yourself (myself), be whatever you want, be it any situation, take ownership of your own bowling, so that gives me a lot of confidence and a responsibility that I’m responsible for whatever I’m doing.”
Trust, belief, confidence and aggression. These are fundamental virtues behind any successful dynasty, sporting or otherwise. And Mumbai Indians under Sharma has been an incredibly successful sporting dynasty: five titles in eight years, and the second-best win percentage for a captain in the IPL, after Chennai Super Kings’ MS Dhoni (60.11 and 58.65). Before he inherited a stuttering side midway through the 2013 season, Mumbai was a bunch of malcontent, directionless stars who shone only sporadically. Sharma turned them into a trophy-guzzling beast. At the heart of the revival has been his uber-cool, but authoritative, leadership.
So intoxicating has been the success he has generated that a raft of pundits want him to helm India in white-ball cricket. Gautam Gambhir asserts it “would be a loss” if Sharma doesn’t lead India in the future. “Rohit has shown in white-ball cricket how big the difference is between his and Virat’s captaincy. One player had led his team to five titles, the other hasn’t won yet,” he told ESPNCricinfo.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan reckons it’s time India deliberated on splitting captaincy. “Without question, Rohit Sharma should be the Indian T20 captain. Fantastic man-manager and leader. He knows exactly how to win T20 games. It would also give Virat a chance to take a breather and just be the player,” he wrote on Twitter.
Considering that India are not wading through a captaincy crisis in white-ball format at this juncture, a change isn’t necessary. But Sharma definitely furnishes a strong alternative. He certainly has the virtues to succeed Kohli, India’s most successful ODI skipper. In fact, he has fared admirably well whenever he has stood in as stand-in skipper. He has won 15 of the 19 games he had led in T20Is with a win percentage of 78. Kohli’s corresponding number is 65.71, though he had led in twice as many games. In the 10 ODIs Sharma has led India in, he has won eight. Impressive numbers, but wizened old-timers would say that leading a team on a permanent basis is a different proposition.
— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) November 11, 2020
The stamps of a fine leader in Sharma, though, are evident. It’s difficult to know too much about a dressing room one has never been in, but Sharma gives the impression of being like a school prefect — somebody who can join in the fun without compromising his authority. One suspects most of the players would vouch for his man-management skills and ability to extract the best out of them.
Yadav’s own IPL career was floundering when Mumbai acquired him from Kolkata Knight Riders. “As a captain, he is very approachable. Not just for me but for everyone in the team. He proactively talks to all the youngsters in the team. That automatically breaks the ice for everyone,” he says.
Likewise, a crew of fine players has turned their IPL careers around under Sharma. For instance, Trent Boult, who Delhi Capitals didn’t know how to utilise, or Quinton de Kock, who had seemed shackled in his Royal Challengers Bangalore days. Others like Ishan Kishan, Rahul Chahar and Jayant Yadav have all blossomed under his nurturing.
Before this IPL season, Jayant Yadav was a T20 outlier. But Sharma instilled belief in him, might not be with words but with action. Introducing the off-spinner as early as the fourth over of the final, against Capitals’ most prolific batsman Shikhar Dhawan, signified his belief in the bowler. He cleaned up Dhawan with his third ball. “The way he used Yadav showed his class. Any captain would have gone with a seamer. Rohit used his instinct. It showed how clear was his thinking. It showed that he’s a bowlers’ captain,” remarks Irfan Pathan.
Sharma’s use of attacking options makes him almost a must-watch captain. The middle overs are rarely boring while he is scheming. He sets subtle traps for batsmen, backs his hunches, and has attack as the default option. “He is a mixture of Dhoni and Ganguly,” says Pathan.
“Ganguly trusted his bowlers and went by it. Dhoni trusted his bowlers but always took decisions with an instinct,” he adds.
In his body language, Sharma is neither. He doesn’t stand out, rather blends into his personnel. He hardly shouts out orders, rarely pesters the bowlers, hardly ever seen emoting, he doesn’t engage in lengthy mid-pitch meetings or field settings. He lets them be. He doesn’t celebrate wildly, neither does he make fuss about setbacks. But his nature should not be misconstrued as a lack of intensity but understood as the way he is. Sharma is the first person to console a bowler struck for a six or a youngster who has dropped a difficult catch. His captaincy, in that sense, is an extension of his batting. Lucid, yet powerful.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) November 11, 2020
He detects the drift of the game like few others, he out-reads the opponent’s move, and plots his move. It’s like he has the mind of a blitz-chess champion. His moves are quick, yet thoughtful.
Pathan offers another instance of Sharma’s foresight. “One of the games was getting close, so he used Bumrah in the 17th over, though he usually uses Bumrah in the 18th. Bumrah brought the game back in MI’s favour,” he observes.
Or his judicious use of Kieron Pollard’s bowling. “Look at the way he used Pollard, he didn’t make him bowl initially but when wicket had double pace he used Pollard.” Pathan points out.
There are those that attribute Sharma’s success to the riches in his squad. Managing an average squad would be difficult, but leading a star-packed side has its challenges too. Egos jutting out, fractiousness simmering, several teams with legendary names have withered due to a lack of togetherness. Sharma’s biggest contribution to Mumbai Indians is that he has aligned the stars and shone sparklingly himself.
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