Super Eights: Onus shifts to Rohit and Kohli

Kohli and Rohit will have to lead with the bat. (PC: ICC)

Two years ago, as India were hammered by England at the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final in Adelaide, it felt like the end of a cycle. The Indian T20 team looked to have completed its shelf life and was in need of regeneration.

In the country’s cricket circles also, change became the buzzword and for the next one year, new players were brought into the fold. As Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were kept away from the T20I set-up, a new opening pair of Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal seemed ready to assume responsibility. A finisher of Rinku Singh’s talent was unearthed.

Cut to the ongoing T20 World Cup, and Gill and Rinku are not in the 15-member squad. Jaiswal is cooling his heels in the dug-out, while India have been opening with Rohit and Kohli. On the face of it, this is old wine in an old bottle, but both batsmen have repackaged their white-ball batting of late and India expect them to take the attack to the opposition in the Powerplay.

Rohit changed his white-ball batting approach from the last year’s World Cup (50-over format). Kohli did it during this year’s IPL, after facing criticisms. His impressive form during the IPL prompted Sourav Ganguly to bat for a Rohit-Kohli opening partnership at the T20 World Cup. The Indian team management concurred.

“I would open with Virat and Rohit,” Ganguly, the former India captain and the ex-BCCI president, told RevSportz before the T20 World Cup. “I want Virat to bat the way he did for RCB in the second-half of the IPL. He has to bat with freedom. Needless to say, he is a great player, but for India to do well, Virat will have to bat with freedom like he did in the IPL. So my choice would be Virat and Rohit at the top of the order.”

Before this World Cup, Rohit and Virat had opened only once for India in the shortest format; against England in Ahmedabad in 2021. In entirely different conditions in New York, both struggled. Rohit scored a half-century against Ireland but fell cheaply against Pakistan and the United States. Kohli scored just five runs in three innings and their opening stand yielded 22, 12 and 1 against Ireland, Pakistan and the US respectively. Then again, not much should be read into those numbers, for batting on New York pitches was a lottery.

Indian team batting coach Vikram Rathour was right in dismissing concerns as regards to Kohli’s form, as he spoke to reporters in Lauderhill. “I love it when every time I come (and) there’s a question about Virat Kohli, whether he is doing well or not,” he said. “No concern at all, no concern at all. He has been batting superbly from the tournament (IPL) that he came from. Couple of dismissals here doesn’t change anything. He is batting really well.”

As the World Cup moves to proper cricket conditions in the West Indies, batsmen will get an opportunity to assert themselves. India’s first Super Eights fixture is against Afghanistan at Kensington Oval, a venue where Australia posted 201/7 against England a few days ago. The onus will be on Rohit and Kohli to give India a good start.

They are the team’s batting royalty. Both have played more than 100 T20Is and helped India win countless matches. Rohit is 37. Kohli will turn 36 in November. The next T20 World Cup is in 2026 and the next 50-over World Cup is a year later. This could well be the last time that Rohit and Kohli are turning up in India’s Blues in an ICC event. Their teammates look up to them, and with India looking to end their ICC trophy drought, Rohit and Kohli are expected to take the lead.

As the tournament enters its business end, India’s chances to a great extent will depend on how the two great batsmen gel at the top of the order.