T20 World Cup nearing, but Rohit and Kohli must choose their battles wisely
Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have not played a T20I since the World Cup in 2022.
It’s been just over a year since Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli played a Twenty20 International, in the doomed World Cup semifinal against England in Adelaide. Now, the possibility that that might have been their respective last matches for the country in that format appears all too genuine, following the announcement of the sides for the multi-format tour of South Africa starting next week.
Neither Rohit nor his predecessor figure in either of the white-ball squads. The Board of Control for Cricket in India said through a press release that both had requested a break from the white-ball leg, not unprecedented but certainly of greater import now, with the next T20 World Cup six months away.
After the South Africa series, India have just three T20Is – in January at home against Afghanistan. Perhaps, the celebrated duo and the other decision-makers – reappointed head coach Rahul Dravid and the national selection panel – have decided it’s time to move on and invest in fresh blood as India target their first T20 World Cup title since 2007. Or perhaps the belief is that these two are experienced enough and skilled enough not to have to play every match in the lead-up to the North American adventure.
The right-handers are at that stage of their careers where they can afford to, and must, be choosy about what battles to fight. Rohit is 36, Kohli turned 35 last month and while they might be physically fighting fit, Kohli more so than his successor, the constant grind of international cricket is certain to have taken its toll mentally. Rohit first played for the country in 2007, Kohli’s debut came a year later; to have had such long careers, with the weight of the captaincy on their sturdy shoulders, adds a whole new dimension to the existing dynamics.
Are either, or both, indispensable to India’s T20 fortunes? With due respect, one wouldn’t think so. As the ongoing series against Australia stands testimony, India’s batting is in excellent hands. For the first time in the country’s history, 200 has been scaled thrice in a row and the coming of age of a host of exciting talent, among them Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Tilak Verma and Rinku Singh, is a welcome development because these young men don’t carry the baggage of past heartbreaks.
Throw in Suryakumar Yadav, increasingly looking like the man who will helm India’s campaign in the US and the Caribbean, Shreyas Iyer and the mercurial Shubman Gill, and the contours of a fabulously gifted batting line-up assumes clearer proportions. It’s around this bunch that India must move forward, a tack Dravid seems comfortable with for now.
Of course, there’s nothing to prevent Rohit or Kohli or both from slotting back in for the World Cup. But whether that will be most ideal from the large-picture perspective is open to debate. Having announced his retirement from international cricket in May 2018, AB de Villiers made himself available just before the 50-over World Cup in 2019. Faf du Plessis, the South African skipper, resisted the temptation to bring back the champion because he felt it would be unfair on the player who would miss out despite having done everything asked of him in the build-up to the World Cup. England went the other way ahead of the 2023 World Cup, welcoming Test skipper Ben Stokes back from a 14-month retirement from ODIs. Interestingly, South Africa didn’t reach the semis four years back, nor did England last month. What path will India adopt?
Rohit, Kohli and KL Rahul constituted the top-three in Australia when India were conservative. Rahul is certainly not in the mix anymore; he will lead the ODI squad in South Africa in Rohit’s absence but doesn’t figure in the T20I set-up with Ishan Kishan clearly having stolen the march. One of the primary reasons for the extension of Dravid’s tenure as head coach is the T20 World Cup; for India to stand any chance of ending a 10-year wait for an ICC trophy, there must be supreme clarity in thinking, in developing a style of play, a brand of cricket that will give them the best shot at success.
For all their class and quality and leadership skills, if Rohit and Kohli aren’t a part of the process heading into the World Cup, it might be counter-productive if they are recalled for the mega event. That’s what happened with Rahul before the last edition in Australia, something that certainly won’t be lost on his namesake from the same city.
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