India's opening batsman in limited-overs format and the captain of Mumbai Indians, Rohit Sharma, is celebrating his 32nd birthday. The 'Hitman' as he has come to be known, is now firmly established as one of the best ODI and T20 batsmen in the world and among the best the country has ever produced.
But reaching his current status wasn't easy. In fact, Rohit had to undergo phases of extreme failure and derision of fans before achieving the stature he now occupies. Sharma first appeared on international stage on June 23, 2007 when he made his ODI debut against Ireland at Belfast. But he had to wait till 2013 before establishing himself in the Indian limited-overs side. Let us locate the five inflexion points in his career which took him from a talented youngster to a modern-day great.
50* vs South Africa in World T20 (September 20, 2007)
India were in serious danger of getting knocked out of the inaugural World T20 in South Africa when they faced the hosts at Durban. Not only did they need to win, but that too with a big margin. The game was played on a pitch that wasn't easy for run-scoring. But Rohit's knock of 50* and his partnership with Mahendra Singh Dhoni helped India reach a competitive total of 153. In the end, it proved to be enough as India not only qualified for the semi-finals but eventually won the title. This knock was the first indication of the greatness that Sharma possessed.
66 vs Australia in first final of tri-series (March 2, 2008)
India went into this triangular series in early 2008 with a relatively young side and without some of the big names that had featured previously. It was also early on in the captaincy reign of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the challenge facing India was the toughest – defeating world champions Australia in Australia. But with the senior pro Sachin Tendulkar leading the way with a hundred, India won the best of three finals with one match remaining. Rohit also made a mark in the first final at Sydney by playing a very important knock of 66 and sharing a 123-run fourth wicket, match-winning partnership with Tendulkar. This innings was provided further proof of Sharma's potential.
83 vs England (January 23, 2013)
It was crystal clear to everyone that Rohit Sharma was an exceptionally talented player by the end of his first year in international cricket. But despite playing the odd good innings, the right-hander remained highly inconsistent. Constantly described as highly capable but continually underachieving, Rohit became a subject of jokes and the term 'talented' felt like an albatross around his neck. 2012 especially proved to be a horrid year for the Mumbai batter as he failed in a tri-series in Australia and endured a most miserable time during a five-match series in Sri Lanka. His scores in that contest read 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4. While Rohit was struggling to lay bat on ball, Virat Kohli, junior to him, had established himself as a prolific run-getter in both ODIs and Tests. At this stage, Indian team made a very crucial decision, to shift Rohit to opener's position in the batting order. A similar move in 1994 had changed the trajectory of Sachin Tendulkar's ODI career. At Mohali, during the fourth ODI of a five-match series against England, Rohit opened the innings for the first time. He was successful and scored a brilliant 83. This indeed proved to be a major turning point of his career as Rohit's success soared to unimaginable heights following this change of position.
141* vs Australia at Jaipur (October 16, 2013)
As the end of 2013 approached, Rohit was on a firm footing in international cricket and had established a successful opening partnership with his friend Shikhar Dhawan. But the match where his unparalleled ability first blazed through in a spectacular form was the second ODI of the seven-match home series against Australia. India were chasing a mammoth target of 360. But they needed only their top-three batsmen to make a mockery of it. Rohit Sharma led the way with a magnificent 141* off 123 balls which saw India home in just 43.3 overs. The shots played by him were simply breath-taking and it was clear that Sharma was no longer just talented but also an achiever.
138 vs Australia at Melbourne (January 18, 2015)
By the time India played a tri-series in early 2015 in Australia, Rohit's status as one of the most devastating batsman in the world was firmly established. Only a few months ago, he had achieved the previously unimaginable feat of scoring 264 runs in a one-day match against Sri Lanka. But there were still doubts about his ability to play big innings away from home, especially outside the subcontinent. He finally put those doubts to rest by scoring a superb hundred at Melbourne againnst Australia. It was now clear that Sharma could not just bully attacks on Indian pitches but hurt them in foreign conditions also.