On the wunderkid's trail

Rohit Sharma was in fine form against Sri Lanka at Canberra. Can he make that middle order spot his own?

updated: February 21, 2008 18:16 IST
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New Delhi:

You know some players are better than most others by the way they make difficult tasks look superbly simple.

At the Cape Town Test in 1997, we realised VVS Laxman would become a fine player by the way his wrists rolled like well-lubed ball bearings to redirect a fiery Allan Donald inswinger from the stumps to the midwicket boundary.

That shot would feel like a punch in the guts if you were the bowler.

Or sample Sachin Tendulkar taking on Shane Warne at Chepauk. The beauty of his 155 there did not just lie in how he set up a famous Indian win. It also lay in how easy he made batting look when the ball was turning a mile.

These are early days for Rohit Sharma. So let's not hype him up and gloss over the things he can do. Instead, let's recap where he comes from and what he has done.

What is it about Rohit that makes him look different from his peers? Is it in the laidback manner he arrives at the crease, almost suggesting he wanted to hit the snooze button on his alarm clock a few more times before being pushed out to play?

Or is it in the way he was about to pat down a ball from Iftikhar Rao in Jaipur when midway through his shot he, perhaps, said to himself, "No wait, let's hit this over cover for six," and his feet moved in a blur and the ball flew into the stands -- just like that -- leaving one thinking, "Hell, this kid can bat."

Early days, yes, but with memories of the young one's batting exploits in the Twenty20 World Cup fresh in their minds, people are talking about Rohit's penchant for the big stage.

For long, there were talks about the Dombivali kid who had been stacking up league cricket runs. So it was only a matter of time before he announced his arrival with a cracking 142 in the 2006 Deodhar Trophy.

The following season, Rohit was one of the rookies Mumbai bet on to bring the Ranji Trophy home. But three disastrous games into the tournament, Mumbai looked done and dusted.

Rohit, in his first season, provided the cornerstone innings of 205 against Gujarat. Mumbai went gung-ho thereon to lift the Trophy. His showcase innings was reserved for the Twenty20 competition when Rohit belted a 45-ball hundred -- against Gujarat again.

So you know the bloke is on to something when he mixes feathery touch with the kitchen sink, mischievous scoops with brute cuts, handsome drives with long hard slogs, off the front foot, off the back foot to score a 70 against bowlers like Muralitharan, Vaas, Malinga and Maharoof. He is just 20. Where can he go from here?

Many who have played for India before Rohit were equally talented, if not more. Think Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel -- able young men, but not playing for India for reasons best known to them.

We know Rohit is good. But the Indian middle order has no room for pretenders. We're talking about people like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman who have played here. If Rohit can make the cut, he will not only be good... he'll be great.