Bonhomie, mutual respect, trade secrets and generous in praise, Rohit’s India scores off the field too

As soon as Rohit Sharma rested his tired limbs on the chair for the end of the series press conference, he asked for water. Looking physically exhausted but mentally satisfied, he would gulp down half a bottle. Rohit wanted to talk and he couldn’t have done that with a parched throat. All through the 20-minutes interaction, he wasn’t cautious nor did he speak in cliches. Rohit said he was enjoying Test captaincy, learning from mistakes and would let out a hearty laugh when an Australian reporter asked if R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would be there when Australia return next after four years. “I don’t even know if I will be there,” he said, throwing his head back and letting out a throaty chuckle.

Rohit has been around long enough to know that four years means a lifetime in Indian cricket. It’s no secret that the six-Test old captain’s legacy will be decided by the performance of the Indian team in this year’s two ICC events — World Test Championship final in June and the 50-over World Cup in October-November. Expectedly, Rohit’s mind space was occupied by the workload of Test players during upcoming IPL, the conditions the team would face at the Oval where they play the WTC final against Australia and the nuance of red-ball cricket. He also felt for ‘poor guy’ Shreyas Iyer, who had the unfortunate recurrence of his back injury.

But for that one regret, Rohit had the expression of a captain proud of his boys. “If you see from Nagpur to Ahmedabad, we have had our share of challenges throughout and we didn’t get any easy victories. Boys are happy. End of the day the result is satisfying,” he said. It was the same sentiment, coach Rahul Dravid had expressed after the game.

Both captain and coach were satisfied about how every time the team faced a crisis a new player raised his hand. Dravid attempted to name the performers but gave up. “In the middle we had performances from Ashwin, Jadeja, Axar, Shubman there …” he said. Actually, he wasn’t sure, “I’ve probably missed out a few”. He did miss Virat Kohli, Rohit, Cheteshwar Pujara among others. “Whenever we were under pressure with our backs to the wall we had to respond and we always found that. It’s one of the heartening things about coaching this team. People want to stand up and take responsibility,” he would add.

Dravid would also be credited for saying the cutest line of the post-match ‘quote fest’. He would call the game’s centurion Shubman Gill, “a lovely kid who works hard on his skills.” It was that kind of day that proves that nothing bonds a team like a good series win against Australia. In this case, there was also the additional joy of making it to the WTC final for the second consecutive time.

India’s captain Rohit Sharma, left, Ravindra Jadeja, center, and Cheteshwar Pujara, right, walk back to the pavilion after the match ends in a draw during the fifth day of the fourth cricket test match between India and Australia in Ahmedabad, India, Monday , March 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

The dressing bonhomie was there to see when the architects of the home win — Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin — shared the Man of the Series and microphone at the award ceremony. “We (him and Jadeja) started a long time ago but we wouldn’t be the same or lethal enough without the other. We need to recognise that, at least I have started recognising that over the last 2-3 years. He gives me a lot of freedom to be creative with the ball, credit to him, I thought he bowled beautifully in the Delhi Test as well and that’s why we are here today,” said Ashwin. He shared an incident to stress Jadeja’s angst of missing out on a big score at Ahmedabad. “After getting out, he sat in the dressing room for about an hour.”

Jadeja explained their modus operandi of hunting in pairs. Their “passing of information” and sharing the weakness of rivals. Ashwin would get embarrassed when his spin-partner would call him a good cricketing brain and how he has information about each team in the world and where they are playing. When the left-armer was asked if Ashwin was more of a scientist or a cricketer, Jadeja replied, “He is more of everything”. Now, it wasn’t just the two of them who were smiling.

Unusually, this was an incident-free India-Australia series and the post-match interactions between rivals mirrored the on-field sporting atmosphere. Manus Labuchagne was seen having a long chat with KL Rahul. A few youngsters from the Aussie squad would look for Dravid for batting tips. Usman Khawaja would get a bat from Virat Kohli. Dravid would appreciate the efforts of the young Aussie stars Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhemann, calling them the sharpest spinners to visit India in the last 10 years since England’s Greame Swann and Monty Panesar. When talking about Gill and how he can learn from the game’s greats, he mentioned Steve Smith, along with Kohli and Rohit Sharma. None of the teams would be carrying wounds from the BGT series to the WTC final. The 2023 India-Australia series also showed the Team India of Rohit and Dravid conducted themselves very differently from the one that had Ravi Shastri and Kohli at the helm.

Having played 49 Tests — about 200 less than his ODI count and 100 less than T20 — Rohit is a late-bloomer in the game’s longest format. Though, those who have played with him for long speak about his sensitivity towards teammates and his man management skills. In the 6 Tests he has led so far, Rohit has shown the same leadership skills that helped Mumbai Indians win 5 IPLs. It was under him that Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah bloomed into international stars. Rohit would often be seen relying on T20 legends Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga during the game. In Tests too, he isn’t different. “I have captained a lot in T20 cricket, more than the other formats but Test cricket I am only six matches old in terms of captaincy. I am still learning and guys around me have played a lot of cricket and they are there to help,” he said. Can a captain willing to learn teach India to win ICC events?

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