The pressure is telling. At the time when there should be a rejoicing of India’s stupendous series whitewash over New Zealand that took them to the top of the ICC ODI rankings, Rohit Sharma took up cudgels against the broadcasters over facts aired as part of undeniable statistics.

He is known as the “Hitman” and “Double Ton man” amongst other things. Unflappable with the bat in his hand except perhaps when sometimes facing the short ball against an outright fast bowler, Rohit Sharma is revealing once more that he can be a tetchy customer on and off the field, even at unexpected moments with some rather surprisingly adverse reactions.

Rohit Sharma has many reasons to celebrate. In the third One Day International (ODI) against New Zealand at Indore, he notched up his 30th ODI century, scoring his 100 off 85 balls in a 212 run record partnership for the opening stand. In the history books, he now equals third placed Australia’s Ricky Ponting on the number of hundreds, though a fair bit away behind contemporary, Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar who holds the record at 49 one day international centuries.

As a captain, this was a rare feather in his cap, particularly after the debacle that was the Asia Cup and the humiliation at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup that saw India struggle and then bow out toothless against England.

However, speaking to reporters after the match, Rohit Sharma was not a happy man. This is what he said, “You guys know what is happening. I know that it was shown on broadcast but ‘kabhi kabhi woh cheez bhi dhyan dena chahiye, broadcaster ko bhi sahi cheez dikhana chahiye’ (sometimes broadcasters must also be mindful to show the right things (on air).”

Right away he made evident the one statistic he did not like. But it was easy to see that under the surface, there was more brewing than the skipper would let on.

Drawing ire at the ticker that flashed at the bottom of the television screen that stated that this was Rohit Sharma’s first century in three years, Rohit was at pains to point out what brought the irritation, “Regarding the first hundred in three years, I’ve played only 12 ODIs in three years. Three years sounds a lot.”

There is no argument with the skipper about the possible implication of that note and how it might do harm when staking a claim to a place or when retaining a place in the playing line up.

It is also true that the pandemic did take up a sizable portion of 2020 and India had been overtly focussed on Twenty20 cricket last year keeping the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in mind. The skipper seemed adamant that not only this fact was the only dominant one but also, a damaging one as well, when there were so many more headlines coming from the match, including the fact that for a second match in a row, India had overpowered the recent no.1 ranked team and had won this match by 90 runs.

Stuck on that solitary statistic, Rohit Sharma dug his heels in again when he took affront not shortly thereafter. This time it was to a journalist asking whether this memorable innings could be referred to as the ‘comeback of the Hitman’.

“What sort of a comeback?” Rohit was livid. “I didn’t get it. Oh, someone must have told you. Of those last three years, for eight months (referring to 2020), everyone was home. Where were the matches? Last year, we played only Twenty20 cricket.”

What the captain failed to mention was that since taking over as India’s captain, he has been a significant absentee on more than one occasion through injury/rest which not only prompted a fair bit of speculation but also, has meant leaving Hardik Pandya in charge of the team in his absence, much to his own detriment in some ways.

Statistics do not lie though they would not be able to paint the entire picture in context. Besides, the captain was not an isolated figure when it came to similar statistics, as Virat Kohli’s flow of runs were put in a similar context as would have been most players in the past two years who had not performed on par.

What is of even greater concern is that even in the sea wave of acknowledgement and applause coming India’s way, if the captain is unable to get past this little detail, insignificant by itself, he is going to have a tough time navigating what is about to happen for the next nine months as India face up to the expectations soaring at home ahead of the hosting of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023.

Despite these seemingly facile victories at home, there is the ever present danger of getting carried away by the one sided matches or against lowly ranked opponents like Sri Lanka. There is fierce competition for places in certain spots and a concern in other areas over the availability of players such as the young fast bowlers over injury concerns, Jasprit Bumrah being a prime case in point.

As the World Cup gets closer, the questions and the expectations will hit the roof. With self preservation on the mind, which seems to be the case given the manner in which Rohit has gone out of his way to want to erase that statistic from public minds, can the pressure to keep one’s place and one’s position as captain lead to a catastrophic self-sabotage?

An example of the kind of comments that will come India’s way would be like the one put up by former England captain, Michael Vaughan, after India trounced New Zealand.

On his social media page, Vaughan wrote, “India finally committing to playing one day cricket aggressive way makes them Red hot favourites to win the men’s World Cup this year - #INDVNZ”

It is not hard to see the mood the Indian captain is in, what part of that message he would have focussed on. With the kind of intense focus on him over his age, his form and his leadership skills, Rohit Sharma is in for a rough ride if things start to get under his skin, which he has revealed they already are.

Why such an innocuous statistic would create such ripples in his mind is perplexing but perhaps stemming from the perspective that he has witnessed closely the kind of intense debate that has been drawn over the selection challenges involving his fellow opening team mate, Shubman Gill, and Ishan Kishan.

To his credit, Gill has proved himself worthy of the vindication, bringing up his third century in the last four one day internationals including a double century in the second match against New Zealand, not to mention the fact that he outpaced his captain at times during that last century which he brought up in fewer balls – 78 to be precise.

With Kishan not far behind on collecting accolades, also putting himself in the double ton club alongside Gill and Sharma, the captain knows that at his age, he is going to have to work twice as hard to keep up with the young blood who will push and pull to cement their place in the side.

It was not under the most ideal circumstances that he had the much coveted captaincy handed to him. And increasing scrutiny is painting Kohli in a better light merely because of the former captain’s contention at the time that his successor should at least be younger than him. Today, age is being used as a weapon by none other than the BCCI who are sending veiled messages about crowning a new captain even before the World Cup has begun.

Talk about pressure, not helped by the fact that with seven missed matches, Pandya has not only walked away with a better win statistics but also, has put the unflattering spotlight back on Sharma.

If Rohit Sharma has had a problem with the broadcasters, it is not hard to see why. What might seem like needless sweating over a small matter like a statistic, hides what is a much larger problem which is one of image, reputation and public perception.

Rohit Sharma has been captured yelling at his teammates and reacting negatively to his bowlers by the camera when things haven’t gone the way of team India. His tetchy behaviour on the field in the midst of desperation is a fair bit away from the cool and composed Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the relatively unflustered Kohli. With little time at the helm of the team, while it is hard to judge the captain, it is also easy to see the contrast with Rohit Sharma not having much time between settling down with the team and pitching for a World Cup, not helped by his own absentee time away from the field.

Reports about his form, captaincy style and the rise of the next generation as well as scrutiny about team, balance, composition and results will be par for the course as the ICC Cricket World Cup comes closer on the radar.

The lengthy Indian Premier League might be a distraction. But it is hardly likely to shake the pressure off the captain’s shoulders. There will be more numbers thrown at him. The question is: which ones will he leave and which will become unwitting bait?