T20 World Cup the target for Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli form non-issue | Crickit
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T20 World Cup the target for Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli form non-issue

By, Kolkata
Feb 15, 2022 08:50 PM IST

The India limited-overs skipper the West Indies T20s starting on Wednesday will be used to plug gaps in the side while building up for the World Cup later this year

“I think it starts from you guys,” Rohit Sharma was matter-of-fact. “If you guys can keep quiet for a while, everything will be alright. If talking from your side stops, everything will be taken care of.” India’s new white-ball captain, and possibly the future all-formats leader, was playing with a straight bat when asked about the consistency of Virat Kohli—India’s all-formats leader till November.

India's Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli(ANI)
India's Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli(ANI)

Last week, Sharma was asked the same question and he was more than amused. “Virat Kohli ko confidence ki zaroorat hai! Kya baat kar rahe ho yaar (Virat Kohli lacks confidence? What are you saying!)” On Tuesday though, nothing was said in jest. “He is in a very good space and he has been part of the international team for more than a decade. He has spent so much time in international cricket that he knows how to handle pressure,” he said ahead of the first T20I against West Indies here on Wednesday.

Kohli hasn’t scored a century since November, 2019. Sharma has hit four. Kohli is all intent, on the prowl for opportunities, to make a statement, to give it back to the opposition. Sharma exudes a more wholesome presence, with a more practical take on life, accepting failure and moving on. They are in the core of a squad that India hopes will lift at least one World Cup in the next two years. Gifted scorers with contrasting takes on leadership, Kohli’s and Sharma’s luck and form have ebbed and flowed over the years, but they have maintained unimpeachable respect for each other. The captaincy change wasn’t seamless. Different versions emerged with Sharma’s absence on the South Africa tour—he was in injury rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy—only contributing to the stories. Yet, nothing has changed between them, at least in the public space.

Indian cricket’s immediate health hinges on this dynamic. And since Kohli skipped the New Zealand T20I series in November, how they shepherd this bunch against a strong West Indies in a T20 World Cup year will give a peek into the future. First up, Sharma did what any captain does—stand up for a legend. He then dispelled any notion the team was experimenting. “I feel the word experimentation is overrated,” said Sharma. “We are trying to find those holes in the squad and trying to fill those gaps. So, whatever it takes, we will try.”

If that means trying out Kuldeep Yadav for a game, so be it. Give more time to Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal? Why not? Hardik Pandya as specialist batter or all-rounder? Let’s keep an open mind, felt Sharma. “Darwaza sab ke liye khula hai (The door’s open for everyone),” he said. “The idea is to identify the players who are going to play the World Cup and give them the game time,” he said. “There are a lot of players who are injured and not with the team. Come the World Cup, I don't know who's going to be fit and who's not, but we've just got to get the back-ups ready. We have a packed schedule and injuries will happen.”

Among the conundrums the team faces right now, the future of Chahal-Yadav and Pandya as all-rounder probably top others. Sharma wants to give more assurance to the spin duo. “Things should start falling into place for them and it starts with us giving them confidence. Chahal has found his rhythm. Kuldeep will need some time because he was injured. The rhythm of a wrist-spinner takes some time to come. I am sure he’ll start working out his bowling very soon.”

Sharma also made it clear that multi-specialty players could get preference. "When you are playing the shortest format, you have to look at some who can bat as well. In this format, you are looking at players who can do two-three different things. That is why the other guys get more preference."

That is also why the door will probably never be closed on Pandya. “He’s a very important player, he brings three skills,” he said. “We haven’t discussed if he can play as a pure batter. Since the last T20 World Cup, there have been a lot of injuries. We are not taking decisions yet. We have to look at combinations. There will be different conditions.”

With KL Rahul ruled out because of a hamstring strain, Sharma will have to slot a new opening partner. Since he is open to giving everyone a chance, Ruturaj Gaikwad too could get to open, apart from Ishan Kishan. There is also the temptation to open with Venkatesh Iyer, unless he is given a lower-middle order slot. Yadav, Chahal, Axar Patel and Ravi Bishnoi give him plenty of spin options. With Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav in the fray for the middle-order and Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur and Harshal Patel providing bowling all-rounder options, Sharma is expected to try different combinations.

“There is no consideration of IPL here. At the moment, we just need to get (right) whatever things we need to sort out,” he said. “This is the time for us to do that. We’ve spoken to guys about what roles they will need to do during the World Cup. That mindset needs to be, to bat or bowl in that fashion. The clarity has been given to them.”

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