T20 World Cup 2024: Legacy hunting in the Caribbean

Both Rohit and Markram have had different roads to the summit clash; who will be the last man standing?
Indian cricket team captain Rohit Sharma (R), South Africa captain Aiden Markram.
Indian cricket team captain Rohit Sharma (R), South Africa captain Aiden Markram.Photo | AP

CHENNAI: Tryst with destiny. Date with glory. Chance to make history... the one-liners will keep coming as the match looms ever closer on Saturday. After all, it is the big final of the Men's T20 World Cup final at Kensington Oval. And walking out for the toss would be two men — Rohit Sharma and Aiden Markram — for whom all the aforementioned phrases fit perfectly.

Rohit, the new kid in the 2007 title-winning Indian team, is now the leader and captain who has reformed the way Men in Blue approaches the shortest format. He has played all the nine T20 World Cups and it all set to feature in a third final in the format.

And in every summit clash, he has had a different role to play.

17 years ago, Rohit was the teenager who came as a breath of fresh air in the middle-order. He took on world-class South African pacers to announce his arrival to the cricketing world and made an impact in the final to boost India's total against Pakistan. In 2014, he was India's new makeshift opener. It had been less than a year since he had taken up the role in white-ball cricket and wasn't necessarily a finished product at the top, especially in the shortest format. A 26-ball 29 was not of any help as India lost to Sri Lanka.

Cut to 2024. Rohit is in the twilight of his career. It is perhaps his last white-ball World Cup across formats. He had revived India's approach with the bat in the ODI World Cup in 2023, leading them to the final. But then, the coveted trophy eluded him. In the United States and Caribbean, it is not unfair to say Rohit is legacy hunting as a captain. He has five IPL and a Champions League title, but has had no success in the finals of ODI WC and the World Test Championship. It is his last chance to stamp his name in the history books as a World Cup-winning captain.

On the other end is Aiden Markram. The teen prodigy who led South Africa to the 2014 U19 WC title. The gifted batter who has been under the lens constantly for not marrying it with deliverables and consistency. It is a common trait the South African shares with his Indian counterpart. For the better part of their careers, they have been called the next-big thing without necessarily delivering on their potential.

However, as was the case with Rohit, Markram too shed the shades of the past to emerge as an inspiring leader.

According to former South African head coach Russell Domingo, who is the batting coach of Sunrisers Eastern Cape team which Markram captains in SA20 League, the 29-year-old's biggest strength is communication and the relationships he builds with players. "He gets on well with all his players. I think that's the biggest thing for him is that he builds relationships with all his players and he's able to get the best out of that because they generally play for him because he's a really good bloke," Domingo tells this daily. Again, another common trait that he shares with Rohit.

While he has led Sunrisers to back-to-back titles, this T20 WC has been a different challenge for Markram. Unlike Rohit, the South African has barely scored any runs and has not been able to make an impact with the bat. But he has made up for that with his tactical nous and inspiring fielding efforts.

On Saturday, he, too, will be legacy hunting. For, it is his chance to lead the Rainbow Nation to a glory they have never achieved. In the process, he can rewrite how cricketing history perceives him.

Two similar career arcs. Two super stars in different stages of their career. But only one can have their legacy sealed — should the weather permit — in Barbados. Who will be the last man standing?

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The New Indian Express