In T20s, Virat Kohli’s new aerial route
Of late, Kohli & Sharma are playing with a newfound approach in T20s—going for the big shots without inhibitions.Updated: Dec 13, 2019 08:55 IST
India captain Virat Kohli and his limited overs’ deputy Rohit Sharma are also the two best batsmen in the side. While Kohli has asserted his supremacy across formats, Sharma still has some ground to cover in Test cricket. Together however, they were not as effective in T20 Internationals. That may be changing.
With two T20 World Cups in the next two years, a big takeaway from the hard-fought T20 series win against West Indies is the duo’s new-found approach to batting in the short format.
Kohli delivered in two of the three games, Sharma in one. A small sample size of these three innings may well have given us a glimpse into their new game.
In the series decider, at Wankhede, Sharma unleashed an open-faced lofted drive over covers in the second ball of his innings. A golf-like tee for maximum, over deep mid-wicket, came in just the third over.
The old-fashioned innings builder had given way to a new-look Sharma, forever on the lookout for a boundary. He completed his fifty in 23 balls. With an in-form KL Rahul at the other end, India’s 100 was up in the eighth over. By the time Sharma was dismissed, he had struck 71 off 31 balls at a strike rate of 208.
Kohli came on to bat in the 13th over. But his first six took just five balls—a controlled-slog over long-on off leg-spinner Hayden Walsh.
With characteristic wristy flicks through long-on and deep mid-wicket, along with seven sixes, Kohli scored 70 not out off 29 balls at a strike rate of 241. This is not the way Kohli normally functions in T20s, where he too likes to score at a more sedate pace, playing along the ground.
This T20I series though, he hit 12 boundaries and 13 sixes, a significant departure from his style of batting (Kohli has hit 235 4s and 58 sixes in his career, excluding this West Indies series).
FLURRY OF RUNS
What this flurry of runs has also done is that both Kohli and Sharma will finish this year as joint top-scorers in world cricket, with 2,633 career T20 runs to each of their names .
They also top the charts on many other counts. Sharma has hit the most sixes in T20 history, 120 from 104 matches. Kohli averages the most, an incredible 52.66 in 75 matches. Only Babar Azam—with an average of 50.17—is close but he has played only 36 matches.
This could serve as a window to the future. Kohli and Sharma are trying to play with greater freedom, even if it comes at the cost of keeping a lesser premium on their wicket.
SENSE OF URGENCY
While Sharma and Kohli upped the ante, Rahul—coming in for the injured Shikhar Dhawan—was in sublime form as well, piling 164 runs in the series at a strike rate of 153.
Tactically, the team management was open to shaking things up. To improve the scoring rate, Shivam Dube and Rishab Pant were sent up the order this series.
India’s sense of urgency in trying to catch up with the T20 batting template became evident as the series went on.
“I think my role in this team is to bat long. Myself or Rohit, one of the guys has to play till the end because our strength is usually striking in the latter half of the innings, and our strike rate goes up,” Kohli had said after the first T20I win.
By the time the series was won in Mumbai, he said, “It was about going out on the field and executing. I had the opportunity to do something different, which I don’t usually do. I told KL (Rahul) to stay on till the end, and said I’ll try and smash a few.”
Kohli and Sharma don’t bat ugly. When they hit the ball, it stays hit. What sometimes could have held them back is the fear of bad habits creeping into their overall game.
Kohli touched upon that after the Hyderabad match.
“The basic fundamental is that I don’t want to change my game too much because I play all three formats and I want to contribute in all three formats,” he said. “I don’t want to be a format specialist.”
Sharma, now promoted to opening the batting in Tests, also spoke of not hitting for hitting’s sake but sticking to strengths. “We like to back what we do as a team well, which is to play smart cricket. Whether it’s taking singles, or doubles, or going after the bowlers, that the situation will tell you.”
However, had India not thrown caution to the wind during the series decider in Mumbai, they would never have reached 240.
Three years back, in the World Twenty20 semi-finals—against the same opponents at the same venue—India was content setting up 192, only to see the eventual world champs chasing it down.
“This pitch allowed us to play freely. It was a good lesson for us and now we need to remember it,” Kohli said on Wednesday during the post-match presentation.
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Sourav Ganguly too tweeted in approval: “Win was not a surprise .. what will stand out is the fearless batting which all will see in T20 now ..play without fear .. no one plays for his place but plays to win ..well done India.”