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Rohit Sharma will carry a billion hopes when he leads India out for the World Cup final on Sunday, the pinnacle of a journey which began in poverty but which has led to a personal fortune of around $25 million and the high-pressure captaincy of the national cricket team.
The swashbuckling 36-year-old opener, nicknamed "Hitman" for his ability to get big scores quickly, has accumulated 550 runs at the tournament in a chart led by teammate Virat Kohli (711) ahead of Sunday's showdown with Australia in front of around 130,000 fans.
But Rohit's selfless approach with the bat to give the team attacking starts and allow the likes of Kohli and the middle-order to build has won him praise in a near-perfect campaign for two-time World Cup winners India.
"The impact he's had has been unbelievable because he sets the tone for the batting, he is the one who is sacrificing his wicket so that others could come and score the runs," former India captain Sunil Gavaskar told TV channel India Today.
"He is taking the attack to the opposition in the first 10 overs. Demoralising the opposition attack at the start. He has got out in the 40s three or four times already. As a leader he has shown the template."
Rohit smashed 47 off 29 balls laced with four fours and four sixes in India's 70-run over New Zealand in the semi-final in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan called Rohit a "genuine hero" and the "man who has changed the culture" of the team, which stands at the cusp of a third World Cup title.
- IPL supremacy -
Rohit took over the captaincy of the white-ball team in 2021 and a year later became the all-format leader in the cricket-crazy nation's quest for a global title.
M.S. Dhoni led India to their last World Cup victory in 2011 at home and then a Champions Trophy title two years later before the team faltered twice in the semi-finals of the 50-over showpiece -- 2015 and 2019.
Kohli's inability to lead India to a title remained one of the biggest talking points by his critics and Rohit was the chosen one with five Indian Premier League titles under his captaincy belt.
Rohit took over the IPL leadership from Australia great Ricky Ponting and led Mumbai Indians to titles in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
He rose from humble beginnings -- he studied on a scholarship after his family was unable to afford the $3.30 monthly fees -- to become India's limited-overs star and the only batsman to have scored three double-centuries in one-day internationals.
Rohit, who is often criticised for his visible paunch in contrast to Kohli's chiselled frame, has amassed 10,662 runs at an average of over 49 in 261 ODIs for India since his debut in 2007.
His boyhood cricket coach Dinesh Lad, in an interview with AFP last week, said if his student lifts the World Cup in Ahmedabad he will be the "richest person in the world".
Rohit was part of the team's inaugural 2007 T20 World Cup triumph under Dhoni but was not selected in the 2011 World Cup squad, an absence that left him "heartbroken".
But come Sunday and Rohit will not only have a shot at leading his team to cricket's biggest prize but also to answer his critics with what he does best -- bat and lead.