The preternaturally gifted (and mercurial) batsman opens up about test cricket, being a veteran before 30, marriage and everything in between.
Rohit Sharma has only a few hours to go before he leaves for Bengaluru to attend a camp ahead of the Indian cricket team’s tour of the West Indies. What does he do? He shows up at our shoot, wraps it up in record time and rushes right off to the airport, of course. Wife Ritika Sajdeh — as competent a manager as you’ll find — does most of the talking, while Rohit smiles indulgently. She’s the exuberant one, and a perfect foil to the reticent batsman. A year-and-a-half after we featured Rohit on the cover of our World Cup special issue, he’s being shot by Colston Julian again, and the photographer isn’t the only one who thinks a lot has changed in that short span. I ask Ritika about her husband’s newly-acquired skills in front of the camera and she grins, “That’s all everyone’s been telling me; that he’s come a long way.” That apart, Rohit’s still the guy who waits patiently while multiple hands (among which are designer friend Troy Costa, who drops by to say hello) pin and adjust his jacket between shots, or as the hairstylist appears every minute or so to tuck away a particularly stubborn flyway strand. He exudes the sort of unspoken confidence we’ve seen on our TV sets of late, watching him captain the Mumbai Indians IPL team and turning out in his country’s blue kit as one of the senior members of the squad (never mind that he’s still only 29). There’s also a smile that crops up more frequently than ever — most often when the couple shares a quiet joke in the middle of our chaotic studio. In an email interview (possibly answered mid-air en route the Caribbean islands), Rohit tells us that he’s enjoying being a captain, that umpires sometimes make him angry and that among other things, marriage has meant more board games in his life.
What would you say is your main objective, personally, on this West Indies tour?
The same as it is before every tour — to work on getting myself in the best headspace possible to achieve what I need to for my country and to work on my fitness and batting ability. Like I’ve always said, every time I go out onto the field, I give it a 100 per cent. I put the past behind me and start afresh, focussing on the task at hand.
How much of a mental leap is Test cricket? In this day and age of instant cricket, is it difficult to make the adjustment?
It’s always an adjustment to go from format to format. Test cricket being a five day format, your fitness has to exceed all bounds, both mentally and physically. Test cricket is such a coveted format for a reason — it is the most gruelling and challenging format and it is by far my favourite. I switch to a higher energy diet so I can sustain my momentum for as long as possible. And ‘early to bed early to rise’ becomes my mantra, from about two weeks before a series starts.
Bomber Jacket by Ermenegildo Zegna; T- shirt by Tommy Hilfiger; shoes by Adidas originals
What do you think went wrong with the Mumbai Indians’ IPL campaign? On paper, you had a team with strengths in every aspect of the game.
That’s true, but cricket isn’t played on paper. We are a strong team and we played our hearts out most of the time, but we did let a few games slip away from us, and the tournament is such that you have a few bad games and you go from the top to the bottom, or vice versa which was the case for us two years in a row. We do strive to be the best and we make no excuses. When we let a game slip away, we own it. 2017 is a new year and we fully intend to come back stronger. We have some of the best players in the world in our team and as part of our support staff.
Is captaincy something you enjoy? What do you think is needed to be a leader of men, so to speak?
Yes I do enjoy it; it’s the most challenging part of the game and l love challenges. It requires a lot of discipline to start with, a lot of commitment and hard work. Leading from the front in everything you do and setting good examples for your team mates is something that I put my mind to. You have to put yourself in the headspace of the batsman, the bowler and the fielders, and that’s my favourite part of the challenge.
Describe your frame of mind when you’re really in the groove, when the ball is simply gliding off the bat to exactly where you want it to go. Is that frame of mind easy to access, whenever you need to?
I don’t like to get complacent or overconfident when I’m at the crease. I always like to prepare for the worst — that’s the best mind frame I can get into because it works for me that way. Everyone is different. But at the actual moment when things are going the way I want them to go, I take it one ball at a time.
T-shirt and blazer by Brooks Brothers
What is an aspect of your game that you think needs working on, if any?
Everything, because you learn something new every day, or there might be something new in store — who knows? No matter how much cricket I play or how many runs I score, there will always be something more to learn or work on.
Who do you really enjoy batting with?
I don’t have any favourites per se, but if I had to pick someone, it would be Sachin Tendulkar. Growing up idolising him, then getting to play alongside him not just for India but for Mumbai Indians was surreal for me. The first time I batted with him, I was so nervous and I couldn’t believe he was standing just 22 yards away.
Who’s the one bowler who would say is the hardest to face?
I won’t say hardest, but challenging — Dale Steyn and Brett Lee.
Who would you pick to bat for your life?
For my life? Really? (Laughs) I guess Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would make a more than safe duo to stake my life on.
Denim jacket by Ermenegildo Zegna; cardigan and jogger pants by Z Zegna; Shoes by Ermenegildo Zegna Couture
You’re already a veteran in the game, and you’re not yet 30. Do the younger players come to you for advice?
It’s always been my dream to play for my country. Getting the India call up in 2007 changed my life, and I’ve been living my dream ever since. I like chatting with the younger players to see what they think of the game and how they want to take their game forward. It’s so important to send across the right message for the next generation. I try to put myself in their place and help as much as I can, because at one point I too was in their shoes.
If you were to give advice to a young batsman, what would it be?
Focus on the basics of the game a lot more. Discipline and commitment to things you want to achieve is what I would suggest.
What makes Rohit Sharma angry?
Insensitivity towards animals and people. And jaywalking. Sometimes umpires too!
And what makes him laugh?
My wife and Entourage.
What does marriage bring to the table, as a man? Does it bring about a balance, as the saying goes?
Marriage has brought me a sense of calmness, responsibility and understanding. Life feels more balanced now.
How would you describe your sense of style? What are your favourite fashion brands?
I don’t believe in following trends. I feel style is very personal. I do love experimenting with accessories like caps, sunglasses and wristbands. At a more formal event, I do give importance to my pocket square and lapel pin. For me, it’s all in the details. All Saints and John Varvatos are my favourite brands.
What does Rohit Sharma do on a day off?
First off, I’d sleep in. Then I’d probably play some video games, watch a movie, go out to dinner, maybe play board games with my buddies. I’m married now, so video game time has been cut in half and board games have been included in my life. I’m trying my hand at the guitar too; let’s see how it goes.
This is a cliched question, but where do you see yourself five years from now?
That’s too far ahead. I’m more the one step at a time kind of guy, so I don’t know if I would be able to answer that. But one thing I can surely say is whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I want to be a good son, husband, friend and teammate.
Photographs by Colston Julian
Styling by Peusha Sethia
Creative Direction by Kapil Batus