BY SUJAY GUPTA
In a sport that defines the brotherhood of this nation- the brotherhood of blue- the Indian cricket team has become a microcosm of the aspiration, of a nation of over a billion. This team is knocking on the doors of euphoria, waiting for cricket’s pearly gates to open and transcend them into the realm of cricketing immortality.
But the metamorphosis from a seasonal rivulet in spate only in the monsoon, to an unchallenged all-consuming ocean, has its genesis in something much calmer.
The genesis lies in Yato Dharmastato Jayah, a Sanskrit shloka that appears in the Mahabharata 13 times meaning ‘Where there is Dharma, there will be victory’.
The simplest root of this word, dharma means ‘to hold’ and ‘to maintain’.
Rohit Sharma’s team has done just that. It has held on to the hopes of a country that feels that the opposition is a mere prop for India’s bowlers and batsmen to use to weave and present their skills, as cricketers in different jerseys genuflect at its blue altar of greatness. And maintain the belief that for India, attaining the World Cup is only a passage of time from October 8 to November 19, 2023.
But this is the outside ‘noise’. For the team though, this ‘dharma’ has been a two-year-long process of being in the bubble, putting on metaphorical headphones, drowning out the noise and putting each player’s own cumulative breath and skill in a cauldron called ‘process’.
The journey to the World Cup finals was all but one of the three peaks Team India had to climb. The T20 World Cup and the World Championship of Cricket Finals were the other two failed attempts. India reached the Semi-Finals of the T20 championships and the finals of the World Test Championships twice in a row, ticking off one important box- that this was a very good team.
But good teams compete. An extraordinary team wins championships, a glory that has eluded the Indian team for a decade. And then Team India had a special relationship with knockout or championship games. Manchester (2019- World Cup semi-finals vs New Zealand), Adelaide (2022, T20 semi-finals vs England) and London (2023, WTC Championship finals vs Australia at the Oval) were signposts in India’s trysts with defeats.
But then the World Cup at home is a grind of emotions, stretching every sinew. A defeat anywhere else does break hearts. A defeat at home in the final of a World Cup breaks souls.
But in the 42 days between India’s first game in the World Cup and the last, the dharma of the process seems to have come together and held Rohit Sharma’s team together.
Something else was happening to this team whose captain, as a child, slept on the floor of a shared room in Borivali in Mumbai, with eight others. This team knows how to get up from a cold floor and climb peaks. And this transformation commenced in the lonely, desolate team dugout after India was brutally beaten by 10 wickets in the T20 semi-finals by England at Adelaide on November 10, 2022, exactly a year ago. Rohit Sharma sat with his head in his arms, with a tear or two or three shed. Dinesh Kartik and he were together for a few moments and Rohit told Karthik, “We’re going to have to change.”
That short sentence became Rohit Sharma’s guiding principle and everyone, including Rahul Dravid, gave Rohit the space and the freedom to build, and lead this team, that has not just transformed the way India has ever played ODI cricket but made Rohit Sharma the understated phoenix, who is enjoying the cricketing battle success of Alexander the Great
Alexander’s father, King Philip of Macedonia, gave him the most complete army that ever existed. They were united in a single purpose and fought as one. The young Alexander realised this and said what has now become the most prophetic and followed words of every battle-hardened soldier and general: “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
At toss time on November 19 at the world’s biggest stadium, Rohit Sharma may not quite remember Alexander’s words but cannot but agree more with them.
Right down the flanks of Team India whose top three batsmen started off with three ducks against Australia in the opening game at Chennai, India has, from then on, found a Kohli, a Rahul, a Shreyas, a Jadeja to do what is needed to be built around the aura of their Captain Courageous.
And the cost of repetition- and it’s well worth paying that cost- Rohit Sharma, the bhai and the dost of his team, has practised what he preached to Dinesh Kartik after the T20 World Cup loss at Adelaide, ‘We’re going to have to change’.
One isn’t quite aware of Rohit Sharma’s reading of Alexander, but it wouldn’t harm if he knew that no one defeated Alexander the Great in India. But in his last great battle in India against King Porus, the Battle of Hydaspes, also known as the Battle of Jhelum, he was outnumbered and almost lost.
Rohit Sharma’s last battle in this World Cup is on the banks of the Sabarmati. And he is up against a team that may do much better than the army of Porus. Australia has the strength of bowling and batting built upon the foundation of history, which can make it lift the World Cup for the sixth time in its eighth World Cup appearance.
There will be mavericks, geniuses and calm heads in yellow in the park as well - David Warner can take the game away from India in ten overs, and Glen Maxwell can bring Australia back in the game and win it from any situation. And between Hazelwood, Starc, Cummins and Zampa, a 30/4 Indian nightmare and deathly silence in a crowd of 1.3 lakhs is possible. And for good measure, Australian captain Pat Cummins has clearly expressed how happy he will be to silence a crowd of 1.3lakhs.
And that is when the brotherhood of blue, in the stands and in the dressing room must stand firm. Those in the dressing room have to get back to the bubble, trust their process dharma and utter Alexander’s words “Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all”.
And they will all turn to one man, Rohit Sharma, and pray for his bat to blaze, for his quiet reassuring shrug of the shoulder if the chips are down, his arm around a bowler’s shoulder if he goes for runs, and finally that effervescent smile of a Mumbai boy who has never left his maidan, drinking eternally from the cup of joy he calls cricket.
At his last pre-final match conference on Saturday evening, as the presenter made his formal introduction and said “We have the India captain…”, Rohit cut him short and said “Sabko maloom hain re…..shuru kar” (everyone knows who I am, let’s start).
At about 10 pm on November 19, all of India will want to know him as a World Cup-winning captain and Indian cricket’s Alexander.