If Virat Kohli is not being showered with epithets every time he produces an innings that carries India out of trouble and to victory, especially while chasing in a One-day International, there are two important reasons.
One, his sheer focus to take command of the situation and let his skill come into play calms the nerves in the dressing room and the stands. And secondly, perhaps India’s passionate cricket enthusiasts have exhausted words of praise on Sachin Tendulkar, his predecessor in the role of the team’s saviour.
On Sunday night in the third ODI in Mohali, India were in trouble, reduced to 41 for two on a good pitch chasing 286 for victory. The defeat in the previous game in Delhi hurt, and India need a 4-1 series win to move past New Zealand to third in the ICC team rankings for One-day Internationals.
The Tendulkar role
Much like the India of the 1990s -- and a fair bit in the 2000s -- sank or swam with Tendulkar, the current team has also become so dependent on Virat to pull off the big games, even at home.
Virat clicked in Dharamsala and it was a canter. In Delhi, on his home ground, he didn’t click and the hosts fell agonisingly short of what was a modest total.
No praise is enough for Virat, whose shot selection has been the most remarkable aspect of his batting. As powerful a hitter as any in the game, he sticks to conventional cricket and runs brilliantly between the wickets to underline his fitness. Only when victory is near, or when big shots are the only way to find scoring momentum, does Virat shed his usual scoring rhythm and go all-out.
Lessons for Rohit
MS Dhoni acknowledging that his days as a finisher are over puts even more load on Virat, and this is where other batsmen need to step it up, be it at the top or in the lower order.
The ability of Virat to switch gears depending on formats makes him a master of adaptability. And here, there is a big lesson for ODI opener Rohit Sharma. In Mohali, he failed to negotiate a straight delivery on a good pitch to be trapped leg before for 13. A golden opportunity to drive the innings was lost.
It is time Rohit realises that the team can wait only so much for him to produce those attractive innings. He is experienced enough and needs to produce substantial knocks when needed by the team.
In Dharamsala, he fell for 14 and he was out for 15 in Delhi. Each innings shows he got his eye in before being dismissed. Virat shows that for all the talent in the world, hard work brings its reward. Rohit needs to follow this path.
Every time Virat takes charge of the innings, questions will be asked why he hasn’t been given the reins in ODIs as well. Dhoni promoting himself to No 4, and scoring a crucial 80 peppered with vintage shots, could change the approach of the side.
The limited-overs skipper was candid enough to admit he pushed himself up for his, rather than the team’s, sake. He also acknowledged he has decided to turn innings builder with a few big shots thrown in.
Virat holding firm till victory was sealed at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium showed he is indeed the leader of the current bunch, setting an example as often as possible.
And that promises exciting times whenever Dhoni gives up the job and Virat is handed captaincy.