The T20-sized challenge ahead of Rohit, Virat | Crickit

The T20-sized challenge ahead of Rohit, Virat

By, New Delhi
Jan 08, 2024 08:37 PM IST

The rate of change in T20s has accelerated and the demand is for no-holds barred madness

They're back but given how pragmatic Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are, they will both know that the job is only half done. Over the years, both batters have adapted their style to the changing demands of the modern game multiple times. Whether they can do the same in T20 cricket too will be worth keeping an eye on.

India's Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma look dejected after losing the ICC Cricket World Cup final.(REUTERS) PREMIUM
India's Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma look dejected after losing the ICC Cricket World Cup final.(REUTERS)

Sharma was never an opener but made himself one of the best in the one-day format by successfully merging big-hitting prowess with an ability to score the big hundreds. He did this with a consistency that set him apart from everybody else. He's mastered ODIs and made a mark in Tests doing that.

Kohli was different from Sharma. While the latter struggled to find his feet in international cricket, the right-hander from West Delhi was a natural fit. He took to ODIs like fish to water and learnt the art of chasing from MS Dhoni, the best in the business. He stumbled in Tests but came back stronger and how! As long as T20s were an extension of ODIs, he seemed very much at ease there too.

But the rate of change in T20 cricket has now accelerated and the demand of the format calls for no-holds barred madness. A need to push the envelope far more than ever before. And it is by this stringent yardstick that Sharma and Kohli will now be measured.

In the past, India have got it wrong by not taking current form into the equation. Very often, reputations have been the difference-makers. But that is also why India, by extension, sometimes looked like they were playing T20 cricket from a different era.

They had the same problem in ODIs as well. But Sharma and Rahul Dravid made a concerted effort to change that. Sharma abandoned the approach that saw him score big hundreds in 50-over cricket. The slow-and-steady approach that lead to the mayhem in the second half gave way to an almost desperate urgency. He got out in the 40s five times during the ODI World Cup but it was the approach the team needed. His strike-rate of 125.94 was the highest for India and allowed the hosts to put pressure on the opposition right away.

Now, Sharma will need to find an even higher level for the T20 World Cup. In a sense, he is already on the right path, but during the 2024 IPL season he will need to show that this momentum will continue to grow. Few players in world cricket have the knack of hitting sixes as easily as the 36-year-old and he can do it off the good balls as well.

His IPL struggles are real and that is why Mumbai Indians have turned to Hardik Pandya. The decision may not have pleased Sharma, but it also reflects a reality that India need to grapple with. Reputation vs form, perception vs reality... it may not mean much but he certainly won't be lacking motivation.

A common sight during the World Cup was Sharma getting beaten and then suddenly switching gears to step out for the next ball and hit a six. It was his way of putting pressure on the ball. The same fearlessness will be much appreciated in the T20 format as well.

A different challenge

For Kohli though the challenge is very different. In the ODI World Cup, he was assigned the task of batting through the innings and he did that incredibly well. His aggregate of 765 runs was the highest in the tournament. The manner in which he builds his ODI innings is a template for the world.

But ODIs afford him that luxury. He can take a few balls, understand the pitch and the attack and then slowly raise the tempo. The demand in a T20 is different. In March 2023, Rohit Sharma told Jio Cinema how the role of an anchor no longer exists in T20s.

"As I see it, there is no role for an anchor now. It is just how T20 cricket is played these days, unless you are 20/3 or 4, which is not going to happen every day," Sharma had said. "Once in a while, you will be in that position and then someone needs to anchor the innings and finish off to a good score. “Guys are playing differently. If you do not change your mindset, you are going to get smashed. People on the other side are thinking about the game differently and taking it to the next level.”

So, Kohli will have to find a way to hit sixes early in his innings, and a way to do it against spin. He will have to go for it almost from the start. In that sense, he will need to change a lot more than Sharma, for whom playing the big shots was always second nature.

The second challenge will be to figure out where Kohli will bat for India. For Royal Challengers Bangalore, he opens. But can India accommodate him in that position? Will Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill drop down the order or out of the playing XI? Then again, if he is to bat at three, wouldn't he need to do that for RCB as well?

With Kohli playing, India's batting order might be Sharma, Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Rinku Singh, Ishan Kishan/Sanju Samson/KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja and the bowlers. Is that the best team India could put out? It could be but for that to happen, Sharma and Kohli will have to ensure that their place in the team is beyond doubt. And for that to happen, they will need a splendid IPL.

The T20I series against Afghanistan represents the start of a long trial for both. A chance to prove that they belong in a format that they haven't played since India's semi-final defeat to England in the T20 World Cup in November 2022. It's time to realign, reassign and restart.

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