Accompanied by another debutant captain in Sri Lanka's Thisara Perera, Rohit Sharma certainly would have had some butterflies as he made the long walk from the pavilion to the pitch of the picturesque Dharamshala stadium for the toss on Sunday, 10 December. What would have probably been more unusual for him though, would be leading the side with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in it.
The rapport shared by Kohli and Dhoni is a treat for the Indian spectators. As drooling viewers look on, every time MSD makes a fielding change from behind the stumps with the same authority as he used to when he was captain, it's a testament to the solidarity of the Indian cricket team. Every time there is a DRS call to be made, the way all eyes (including Virat's) turn to Dhoni has become characteristic of contemporary Indian cricket.
Rohit too, being an active part of this set up must have been observing it all this while. Somewhere in his flight of fancy, he must have been dwelling on what he would do differently if he was captain. Now is his chance to show what he's made of.
Rohit Sharma captained his first ODI in Dharamshala on Sunday, 10 December.
In the September of 2007, the Kingsmead cricket ground in Durban was buzzing, jam-packed with its full capacity of twenty-five thousand. The stadium, located on the shore of the South Atlantic Ocean, had been a witness to Yuvraj Singh's six sixes against England just a day ago.
India was facing South Africa on its home turf to ensure a semi-final berth in the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup. When Rohit Sharma came out to bat, the team was tottering at 61-4. The opening pair of Sehwag and Gambhir was already back in the hut. On a tough wicket where the ball was wobbling due to the sea breeze, Rohit fought it out with his maiden T20I fifty and bagged the Man of the Match.
Interestingly, on the other end was skipper MS Dhoni who had been recently assigned the captaincy of the Indian team. It was the 85-run partnership between Rohit and Dhoni that pulled out India from trouble and presented it with a place in the semi-final.
That was the first solid partnership between Rohit and Dhoni in the middle. Ever since, the duo has nurtured a strong bond between themselves both on and off the field.
When Rohit burst on to the cricketing scene, he mesmerised one and all with his elegance and stroke-making. Whoever saw him, fans and cricket pundits alike, was in awe of the Mumbai batsman. But gradually the 'pleasing-on-the-eye' adjective started sounding more caustic than complimentary. Everyone knew that the guy had real talent, but their frustration owing to his streak of failures was also palpable.
MSD gave Rohit a long (very long) rope in the middle order but he too was beginning to get unsure of Rohit's place in the ODI side. On the 2012-13 England's tour of India, Rohit had been warming the benches with fellow Mumbai batsman, Ajinkya Rahane making the final XI.
After Rahane failed to deliver the goods in the first 3 ODIs, Rohit got a game in the 4th ODI at Mohali, but voila! this time he came as an opener. For once, Rohit did not disappoint as he went on to make a breezy 83. Although he could not duplicate his performance in the 5th ODI at Dharamshala, the ingenious brain of MSD had noticed something. It was Rohit's knock in Mohali that sowed the seeds of something that had the potential to flip his ODI career upside down.
The next thing Rohit knew was that he would be opening the batting with Shikhar Dhawan for India in the Champions Trophy to be held in June 2013. It would be fair to say that Rohit did not have a run feast like Dhawan, who went on to score 363 runs in 5 innings and finish the tournament as the highest scorer. However, Rohit's achievement - tournament's 5th highest run scorer with two fifties - was a lot better than his previous performances. Moreover, India struck gold with a solid left-right opening combination that had no issues with pace and was adept enough to score runs in alien conditions.
After Dhoni quit captaincy, Rohit himself revealed what had precisely happened leading to his promotion in the batting order. He (Dhoni) just came up to me and said 'I want you to open the innings as I am confident that you will do well. Since you can play both cut and pull shot well, you have the qualities to succeed as an opener,' Rohit Sharma to PTI.
Rohit not only recognises the positive impact Dhoni has had on his career but he has also not shied away from making his admiration public.
"I believe the decision to open in ODIs changed my career and it was a decision taken by MS Dhoni. I became a better batsman after that. In fact it helped me understand my game better, react better according to situations. With no disrespect to other great Indian captains, I was blessed to play under MS all these years. His calmness in pressure situations helped us. He always led from the front. There won't be one like him," an emotional Rohit said, giving Mahi his due credit.
When Rohit scored his maiden double century in the 7th ODI against Australia in Bengaluru, he aptly had skipper Dhoni by his side.
Fast forward a little to the 4th India-Sri Lanka ODI in Pallekele this year. India had, what could somewhat be called a batting collapse. Coincidently, the score was 61-4 (again) when Dhoni took the crease amid the superb spell of Lankan off break spinner Akila Dananjaya, with Rohit on the other end. The duo steadied the ship and led India to a comfortable six wicket victory.
Rohit was all praise for the calm-headed Dhoni as he dished out a tweet for him-
With level-headedness and equanimity as stand out character traits, Rohit has already proved his credentials as captain in the IPL. Once he was elevated as the permanent captain of the Mumbai Indians in 2013, the 30-year-old has led Mumbai Indians to a record 3-time victory. After MI bagged the 2017 edition of IPL, when asked if he is aspiring to become India's T20I captain in the coming future, the elegant right-hander said, "That's thinking too far ahead. I don't think too far ahead. When the opportunity comes, it comes. I will grab it with both hands."
Rohit Sharma will be India's 24th ODI captain and the 7th Mumbai player to do so!#INDvSL— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) November 27, 2017
Recently, when he was asked how different it will be captaining India from leading Mumbai Indians, Rohit said," It will be completely a different ball game all together but the process and basics of captaincy will remain the same."
It's no secret that Dhoni has shielded Rohit various times through his roller coaster career. But as nothing is permanent in life, so is in cricket. With criticism rising, Dhoni is working hard to wield his spot in the side till the 2019 WC. Rohit, who on the other hand had been struggling until now to cement his place in the Test XI, suddenly finds himself to be the skipper in the ODIs due to the absence of the regular captain Virat Kohli.
Being of the same age group (1 year elder) as Virat, Rohit will have limited captaincy ambitions but having played under Dhoni's captaincy for the most part of his career, the chemistry between Rohit and Dhoni in the novel arrangement will make for delighting visuals. Be it a DRS call or bringing about a bowling or fielding change, the eyes of the Indian fans will pass by Rohit and rest on Dhoni.