Six IPL Trophies, five of them as captain; Owner of the highest score in One Day International History, a mammoth 264; A 2007 T20 World Cup Winner; Winner of 3 Asia Cups; One of the best opening batters of his generation, the current captain of the Indian National Cricket Team for all three formats of the game, Rohit Sharma, Inaugurates Bay Area Cricket Academy here last week.
Cricket fans queue up
Rarely does a player of his caliber make a U.S. visit, but when they do, public interest in cricket spikes. It did so on August 5th this year, when Rohit Sharma arrived in the Bay Area to inaugurate his cricketing academy – CricKingdom – in its very first location in the United States.
The red carpet event was graced by prominent figures from the cricketing world and beyond. Rohit Sharma was joined by his wife and manager Ritika Sajdeh, as well as ace USA bowler Saurabh Netravalkar, the mayors of Milpitas and Fremont, and USA Cricket officials such as West Zone coordinator Prakash Giri.
While it was a momentous day for Bay Area cricket at our local ‘US Cricket Store,’ the event did not come cheap. It cost $150 to enter and fans were charged up to $500 for a picture or autograph.
But that did not deter the cricket enthusiasts who lined up outside the store long before the event started. From elementary school children to grandparents, young cricketers, and their parents, fans were eager to meet the cricket star face to face. One young fan said, “I can’t believe I saw him in real life! After watching him on TV so much I finally saw him in person!”
An engaging press conference
Speakers blasting music by Yo Yo Honey Singh heralded Sharma’s grand entrance into the venue. Once the excitement subsided, a local Bay Area dance group performed to Bollywood hits such as the title song from Shah Rukh Khan’s most recent movie Pathaan.
The press conference that followed was completely engaging. Sharma is known for his witty responses to reporters’ questions answers, but what was apparent was his dedication and passion for the game! Sharma showed himself to be a true team player and a perfect captain for his country.
When asked which game he would remember for his entire life, Sharma mentioned not just the games to which he had made strong contributions, but also the matches where India had done well as a team even though his own performances may have fallen short!
Sharma was very modest, humbly sharing how he idolized Sachin Tendulkar and feeling tongue-tied around him. It was an eye-opening revelation to realize that athletes are actual people too. What we see on TV is just such a small part of athletes’ lives, and we don’t realize all that goes on behind the scenes. Sharma talked about his struggles with injuries and the pressures of being captain of the Indian cricket team.
Sharma graciously answered some questions from reporters. His answers have been lightly edited for publication.
If there was one game that you will remember your whole life, which one would it be?
RS: When you have a career of 15-16 years, there are so many games that you don’t want to forget. For example, my first ever 100-run partnership with Sachin, going back to 2008 in the CB Series. I had never played with him. What happened was I got to bat with him in the finals, and I have always idolized him. Even when I was in the dressing room with him I never used to really talk to him, because from childhood I had seen him, and now he was sitting in front of me. I was just wondering, ‘What is Sachin Tendulkar?’ What does he look like?’ Then he came to bat with me and we got a 100-run match-winning partnership. We went on to win that first final and …the CB series also, which was the first time that India won.
The 2007 World Cup was also really special. My 264 was also memorable and my test cricket debut hundred.
And then, although I didn’t make a significant contribution in that test match, the one that we won in Gabba (Australia) in 2021. That was probably the best test match that India has ever played or the best that I have ever watched. India has never won there. India won in Gabba…the most difficult place in Australia, … to win that test match with so many injuries, like 7 or 8 of … our players were injured on the tour.
You started your career off as a spin bowler, so shouldn’t you have a couple of chances to roll your arm over?
RS: Of course, that has been on my mind for the past 4-5 years. Unfortunately, as an off-spinner, I have to hold the ball with my middle finger and my index finger, and you have to have a revolution on the ball for it to do something off the pitch. I got hit here 2 or 3 times, – dislocation, fracture, and things like that. So whenever I bowl, it hurts. That was actually compromising while holding my bat. I didn’t want to do that, because on a team, my main role is to score runs with the bat, not off-spin. That is where I had to sacrifice my bowling so that I could be 100% on my batting. I’ve given it enough time, enough work on the fingers, but it never turned out well.
How did you get the nickname ‘Hitman’?
RS: That was a production guy in India from Star Sports. One of the crew from Star Sports, when scored my first double hundred against Australia in 2013 – I think it was a world record for hitting 16 sixes which was later equaled by Shane Watson a few years later – but until then, in 2013, 16 sixes was a world record. So when I was at the presentation ceremony for man of the match and also player of the series, one of these guys – we call him PD – he was the one that came to me and said, “You know, you are a hitman yaar. The way you hit the ball is a hitman.”
This was actually said to Ravi Shastri while he was commentating on air, and Ravi Shastri said, “He is the hitman of Indian cricket.” After that, actually, it started catching on, and my team started calling me that. You know how it spreads. Now, 10 years later, everybody knows it.