Gaming

For Kohli and Rohit, reinvention is the name of the game | Cricket

Chasing down 173 is one thing but wrapping it up in 15.4 overs is another. Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shivam Dube were at the forefront of India’s stupendous chase at Indore on Sunday but it couldn’t have attained that breakneck momentum without Virat Kohli’s 16-ball 29 bankrolling effort in the Powerplay. Not just that, Kohli’s innings effectively negated Rohit Sharma’s golden duck, underpinning why India shouldn’t mind such an approach as long as the wins keep coming.

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Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma(Reuters)

It was imperative for both Sharma and Kohli to buy in a different way of batting in their first series since the failed 2022 T20 World Cup campaign in Australia. And it seems they have done that. “We are very clear with what we wanted to do and what we wanted to achieve as well,” Sharma said at the post-match presentation.

“(There is a) very clear message to everyone in the team as well and when you see performances like that you can feel proud of it as well. It’s one thing to talk about it and it’s another thing to go out there and actually do it.

“So, I’m happy we’re doing what we are speaking in our changing room and that’s a good positive for us, moving forward. In the last two games that we played, we’ve ticked almost every box, trying certain things in the powerplay, back end, and middle overs as well.”

To forego a cautious start at this juncture of their careers can’t be easy but Sharma and Kohli look to be committed. The run-out at Mohali was unfortunate but skipping down the pitch and exposing the stumps first ball of his innings sends a crucial message that Sharma very much wants to be a functioning part of this T20 transition and not just a veteran who will be difficult to drop by virtue of his experience.

It’s a high-risk strategy but the ODI World Cup last November—where Sharma finished with 31 sixes (highest of the tournament) and a strike rate of 125.94, highest among all India batters—has shown it can be highly rewarding as well.

Possibly more challenging is for an India No 3 to start blasting for the first ball, especially for a batter like Kohli who prefers boundaries to sixes, and likes to settle down by nudging through the gaps for the first 20 odd runs. Not on Sunday though. Five fours in that 29, and only one of them was vintage Kohli when he leaned into a wide Mujeeb Ur Rahman delivery and creamed it through a packed off-side field.

Barring that, he seemed uncharacteristically bent on taking on the bowling, shimmying down the pitch, going for slogs, making space to manufacture shots and berating himself on not clearing the boundary. These are the first signs of strategy that’s bound to send many bowlers back to the drawing boards.

Look back though, this looked always on the cards. Sharma and Kohli hadn’t played a T20I since that World Cup semi-final loss to England in Adelaide but that they had made up their mind about reinventing their approach was evident in the 2023 IPL. Sharma finished that season with 20.75, his second lowest average ever in the IPL, but came up with a strike rate of 132.8, his highest since 2018. Kohli not only had a strike rate of 139.82—his highest since 2019—but also averaged 53.25, his best since 2016.

In the backdrop of an upcoming World Cup in a region where pitches are similar to India’s, these were extremely encouraging numbers. All India needed was to test this new template in whatever international matches they got before this IPL, and that’s exactly what they seem to be doing.

This also probably tells us that Kohli and Sharma are going nowhere right now. Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav are injured, but when they return India are bound to look more enterprising if Kohli and Sharma continue to bat in this vein.

It’s a break from the past when India looked in knots with a hesitant batting top-order in the last few T20 World Cups. They can always revert to more conservative roles if the situation demands so. But as long as Sharma and Kohli come out firing like this, India can always hope for happier days.

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