T20 World Cup: Time running out for Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Do India need to press the panic button?

t20 world cup: time running out for virat kohli and rohit sharma. do india need to press the panic button?

India's openers Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during ICC T20 World Cup 2024

Until the start of this month, in five T20 World Cups dating back to 2012, Virat Kohli hadn’t gone more than two innings in a row without a half-century. In four knocks in this edition, he has a measly 29 runs, among them a first-ball duck and a scratchy, run-a-ball 24.

In his last T20 International before this World Cup, Rohit Sharma celebrated his comeback to the 20-over format after 14 months with an unprecedented fifth hundred, against Afghanistan in Bengaluru in January. He extended that form to a half-century against Ireland in India’s tournament opener in New York more than a fortnight back but has subsequently managed just 24 runs in the last three innings.

In what is likely their final T20 World Cup, Rohit and Kohli were united at the top of the batting order for more than one reason. Primary among them was to maximise their form, expertise and experience. Rohit is one of the most destructive white-ball openers in the sport’s history, Kohli commanded a place as his partner with more than 700 spectacular runs in the IPL season gone by.

This was a pair of contrasts. Rohit is a proper six-hitter, Kohli less of an aerial artiste though in recent times, his big-hitting skills have assumed a new dimension. Kohli is all hustle-and-bustle, trying to convert ones into threes and keeping the fielders on their toes with his anticipation and alacrity, whereas Rohit is more stately and measured, a conserver of energy, a pupil of the Arjuna Ranatunga school of running between the wickets though he is far busier than the master used to be.

In the contrasts lay the expectation that together, they would produce some of the most mellifluous music on a T20 field. Both appeal aesthetically, both are beautiful stroke-makers, both are capable of scoring at a frenetic rate without falling back on the crude and the brutal. Cricket fans were convinced they were in for a treat, celebrating a jugalbandi for the ages in their T20 World Cup hurrah.

Things haven’t quite panned out that way. After four innings, the highest opening salvo is 22, against Ireland in New York two and a half weeks back. Since then, the first wicket has produced efforts of 12, 1 and 11. That’s a total of 46 runs in four outings, average 11.50, not the kind of starts India would have hoped for from their two most experienced and accomplished batters.

Fortunately for them, the middle order has stood up. Rishabh Pant at No. 3 has been a revelation, Suryakumar Yadav has batted exactly like the world’s best T20 batter should, Shivam Dube has revealed adaptability, Hardik Pandya is on his way to shrugging off iffy form, and Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel lend depth and firepower towards the backend. India have seldom been in a position to field such a balanced outfit with so many bases covered – eight excellent batting options, six full-time bowling choices with a seventh available in the form of Dube’s medium-pace.

But how much more fun it would be for the Pants and the Suryakumars and the Dubes to come in on the back of a muscular start. For them to not worry about rebuilding and providing impetus but simply carrying forward the work put in by two worthies who have been there and done that. To build on an already impressive edifice and cut loose from ball one, secure in the knowledge that there is plenty of firepower still in the shed.

No one is more acutely aware of the need to start pulling their weight, immediately, than Rohit and Kohli themselves. More than anything else, they have found the slowness of the pitches a difficult challenge to overcome. Going aggressively at the ball, with hard hands and the intention of smashing the cover off it, is against the natural grain of both these batters who place a premium on timing and placement. Timing, however, has been at a premium because the ball hasn’t gushed on to the bat, and because of that, placement has gone awry as well. Every dot ball has added to their anxiety and frustration; they haven’t been dismissed defending as often as they have in trying to manufacture a stroke, which has been a self-defeating exercise on these pitches.

Rohit and Kohli will be better off giving themselves a few balls to bed in because they are more than capable of catching up with the strike rate, the deeper they bat. Being overkeen has been counterproductive; a return to basics ought to be the weapon with which to hunt down Bangladesh in North Sound on Saturday.

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