Ahmedabad: Indian skipper Virat Kohli plays a shot during fifth and final T20 cricket match between India and England, at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.(PTI)
Ahmedabad: Indian skipper Virat Kohli plays a shot during fifth and final T20 cricket match between India and England, at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.(PTI)

Why Virat Kohli opening in T20Is is just what India needed

  • Like Tendulkar and Ganguly, it's the coming together of two once in a generation players and allowing them maximum opportunity.
By Somshuvra Laha, Kolkata
UPDATED ON MAR 21, 2021 12:36 PM IST

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will open the batting in T20Is. Can there be a more assuring sight? Not in the slightest. Like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly opening, this too is a culmination of two generational talents; only Kohli and Sharma have fundamentally different batting approaches and this is a much more exacting format. T20 cricket requires a tedious balancing act of the grafter complimenting the aggressor over a small duration before changing lanes. The margins of error are scary here. Thanks to their skill, versatility and experience though, Sharma and Kohli make perfect sense every over they spend together. Allowing them maximum deliveries is thus the most logical conclusion.

“If we have a partnership and we both are set, then you know that one of us is going to cause some serious damage,” said Kohli after India’s win on Saturday. “That’s exactly what we want. And the other guys feel much more confident when one of us is still in and set, they know that they can play more freely. It augurs well for the team and I would like this to continue, and hopefully continue that form through to the World Cup.”

Kohli is already making a habit of batting deep, racing to his 24th unbeaten innings on Saturday, switching gears at exactly the right time to finish on 80 off 52 balls, after settling himself in with 22 runs from his first 21 balls. And if Saturday’s game is any indication, Kohli is poised to be Sharma’s ultimate license to go berserk. That we had to wait more than seven years (the only other time Kohli and Sharma opened was in 2014, in an ODI against New Zealand in Hamilton) for the two finest batsmen in shorter formats to come together speaks volumes on India’s depth of talent and the permutations and combinations attempted to accommodate them.

But in the T20 World Cup year, the dice has been cast. With Suryakumar Yadav set to get a longer tenure as India’s No 3, this could be the end of the road for KL Rahul as opener. Frankly, nothing should come in the way of a partnership between two batsmen with close to 27,000 runs in the shorter formats. Not to forget that when it comes to match awareness, Kohli and Sharma are almost peerless. Check their records in IPL and ICC events. They are the real deal.

Normally, Sharma sets the early pace. This time it was Kohli, picking Jofra Archer’s slower in the second over and thumping it past short cover. Sharma weighed in two balls later, leaning into a sumptuous cover drive. Sharma quickly found his range, swatting Adil Rashid for a six over midwicket before drilling two boundaries past Mark Wood. Ten off 13, just when the mind starts asking when, Kohli rolls out the big gun. Six, off a pull against a 147kmph scorcher from Wood, dispatched like a boss. That beaming grin said it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Unlike Sharma who shuffles to come inside the line of the ball, Kohli tends to stay on the out, making his pull and hook that much more difficult to execute.

But eloquence is Sharma’s middle name. When Wood strayed down the leg again, he heaved him for a six over deep fine-leg. It was almost effortless. That’s what happens when you pick the length so early. That over fetched 16 runs; India raced to 60 in six overs, making it their sixth highest unbeaten Powerplay. The foundation had been laid. Now Kohli let Sharma lead the dance; while he happily squirted singles, Sharma uncorked a range of sixes. Chris Jordan watched his slower fly over square-leg before Curran induced a skier that was too difficult for Wood to catch running back. Next ball, you could hear Sam Curran’s full-throated dismay at being sorted by the genius of Sharma. Five off five deliveries and Sharma moves away from his leg stump, prompting Curran to follow him, only to be deposited over backward square-leg.

Fielders behind square-leg can’t hide when Sharma is in full flow. Neither can long-on. Boundaries instead of sides begin to seem like victories when Sharma is so dismissive of the bowling. England lost that battle, conceding five sixes to Sharma compared to four boundaries. But the ultimate slip-up was allowing a batting line-up like India’s to reach 81/0 after eight overs. Kohli was just getting warmed up. Despite Ben Stokes inducing an inside edge off Sharma’s bat after being caned for 11 runs in three balls, England knew worse was to come. Ninety-four after nine overs was just the start Kohli needed to warm up his thrusters. The next 31 deliveries gave Kohli 58 runs as he batted the entire 20 overs.

“We knew we could trust each other and one of us can play second fiddle if one takes off. Today it was classic Rohit Sharma. And then Surya coming in at three and taking the game even further away. Then Hardik finishing it,” said Kohli.

Kohli and Sharma opening is a thing now. Saturday was just the first day, first show. Prepare for a record-breaking run.

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