India hope to see the Rohit-Virat show in Super Eights | Crickit
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India hope to see the Rohit-Virat show in Super Eights

Jun 18, 2024 06:20 AM IST

They haven't quite set the World Cup on fire but they could have well been waiting for the bigger stage

It is a fitting coincidence that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have scored 4,042 runs each in T20Is for India. Their careers, after all, have run parallel to each other, transitioning from poster boys of the young generation when they began well over a decade ago to hardened pros who shoulder India’s expectations across all formats.

India's openers Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during the Group A match against Pakistan in the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 (ICC - X)
India's openers Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during the Group A match against Pakistan in the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 (ICC - X)

Rohit is 37 while Kohli will turn 36 in November, which means that neither is certain of playing another World Cup. The next T20 World Cup is two years away and the next ODI World Cup is in 2027.

If the ongoing T20 World Cup turns out to be their last marquee event in India's blue, Kohli and Rohit have an opportunity to leave a collective mark on it as an opening partnership. Never mind the puerile battles that their fervent fan bases fight on social media.

Interestingly, for all the time they have spent as teammates — they have played more than 100 T20Is each — they had opened the batting together only once before this T20 World Cup.

Until a couple of months ago, Kohli may have been expected to take his usual position of No.3 given that Yashasvi Jaiswal was the incumbent opener with the added advantage of presenting a left-hand option.

But Jaiswal’s middling IPL season and Kohli’s success opening the batting for Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) has eventually led to India’s two senior-most batters taking strike against the new ball in this T20 World Cup.

The only previous instance of their opening the batting together came against England in Ahmedabad in 2021. Both batters made fifties and stitched together a stand of 94 in nine overs, helping India score 224/2 and register a 36-run win. Over the past fortnight at the T20 World Cup, however, their opening alliances have contributed 22, 12 and 1 against Ireland, Pakistan and USA respectively.

You can’t delve too much into these numbers, because India’s matches at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Long Island were played on extremely challenging surfaces that didn't make for good T20 contests. The average total in eight matches at the venue was just 107.

It meant that the emphasis in this format on opening batters taking the aggressive route as often as possible and capitalising on the first six overs didn’t really hold sway in the group stage. Starting with the Super Eight outing against Afghanistan in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Thursday though, the role of India’s opening combination in setting the tone for the batting department is likely to be very influential.

The pitch at the Kensington Oval should certainly be better for batting. When heavyweights Australia and England battled earlier in the tournament, Travis Head and David Warner raced to a 70-run partnership for the first wicket in five overs. It allowed Australia to get to 201/7 and claim a 36-run victory.

Against Afghanistan, therefore, the onus is on Kohli and Rohit to put together a similarly rapid partnership at the top. While left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi has been posing a threat by getting the ball to swing early on, Afghanistan clearly bank on the Rashid Khan-led spin attack to squeeze the scoring rate through the middle overs. If the duo can get off the blocks in quick time, it will go a long way towards messing with Afghanistan’s set methods.

In the brief time that they have opened the batting together, Rohit has tended to be the more aggressive batter. That is likely to be the template going forward in this tournament too. With the pitches in the Caribbean unlikely to aid 200-plus totals, there seems to be some room for Kohli to take a bit of time at the start. It suits his natural game, although he did show in the second half of this year's IPL that he can adapt and bat at a faster tempo too.

While it is true that Kohli has only made five runs across three innings in this T20 World Cup, Afghanistan will be on high alert for the very fact that a lean run is extremely rare for him. Kohli’s only T20I century was also against Afghanistan in September 2022.

“I love it when every time I come there is a question about Virat Kohli, whether he is doing well or not,” India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour said on Saturday. “No concern at all. He has been batting superbly from the tournament that he came from. A couple of dismissals here doesn't change anything, he is batting really well. Actually, it's good that he is a little hungrier, he is really keen to do well and really switched on. It's a good space to be in as a batsman.”

Rohit, meanwhile, did make a fifty against Ireland, but the tricky surface didn’t allow the skipper to blaze away and unleash his full range of shots. As was evident at last year’s ODI World Cup, he now seems to lay greater emphasis on starting quickly and playing impactful cameos rather than setting up for a big fifty or hundred.

Their scoring zones against pace bowlers also makes for an interesting contrast. While Rohit relishes playing the pull and taking toll of short balls, Kohli looks to get going with his assortment of drives and flicks. It is now up to them to complement their respective strengths and combine successfully in achieving India’s quest for glory. If they do so, their legacy will get enhanced with a compelling new chapter.

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