Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are easily the two best batsmen in India. No doubt about it. No arguments too, although you may point to Sharma’s patchy Test record. And I say that’s more a question of temperament than skill. Well, I’m an unabashed supporter of Sharma simply because his strokeplay is breathtaking. You too will agree, if you’ve watched him in full flow.
As for Kohli, there’s no room for debate. He’s the best batsmen on the planet, even if the Australians would reserve that tag for Steven Smith. What about Joe Root? He’s the best for the Englishmen. The Indian captain’s record has been unmatched across all three formats of international cricket. So there’s no room for disagreements.
Let’s confine our discussion to T20. More so since the World Cup is less than eight months away. A World Cup in India calls for new tactics or renewal of old tactics. Pitches for limited over games in India are graveyards for bowlers. Occasionally the spinners may elicit a bit of help, but it can be frustrating for the seamers.
Remember Hayden and Gilchrist
What’s this got do with Kohli and Sharma opening the batting? Plenty, I’d say. Because it’s like the return of the Sachin Tendulkar-Virender Sehwag partnership. These two provided some of the explosive starts for India in One-day Internationals (ODI). A quickfire partnership following a brutal assault would leave the bowlers so deflated that the middle order batsmen could come in to provide the finishing touches.
India were not the only ones to employ the double-barrel gun at the start. Adam Gilchrist and Martin Hayden always laid into rival attacks for the rest of Australian batsmen, like Steve and Mark Waugh, along with Andrew Symonds and others to kill off any vestiges of a comeback.
The West Indies always had blistering starts from their openers. The names don’t matter. The format too. They all bat the same way. That’s the Caribbean flavour. Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Phil Simmons and all the openers who followed them bat in the same manner. The Calypso style. With free-flowing strokes. And runs flowed in torrents.
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The Tendulkar-Sehwag combo at the top was reminiscent of the West Indian approach. I still remember the Indian duo’s assault on Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup match at Centurion, South Africa. The Pakistan pace pack was the best in the world, and they had a good total of 273 to defend in 50 overs. But Tendulkar and Sehwag unfurled an incredible array of strokes that defanged the Pakistan bowlers. By the time they left, the match was in the bag. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh took India home with plenty to spare.
So Kohli and Sharma are transporting us to the days of Tendulkar and Sehwag. To me, it wasn’t a surprise. The clues were there. Remember how Kohli hinted at the need for electrifying starts ahead of the T20 series against England. The starts of the first four games in Ahmedabad were anything but electrifying. It was appalling. And Kohli’s belief must have strengthened by the success of Jason Roy and Joe Buttler for England.
Why the combination will work
K.L. Rahul’s continued poor form gave Kohli a chance to partner with Sharma. The result of the first outing was phenomenal. With the two blazing away from both ends, India posted 225, their highest total against England in T20 Internationals. It worked. The move has already received ringing endorsements from former captains Sunil Gavaskar of India and Michael Vaughn of England.
We shouldn’t get carried away by this. Aggression is always fraught with danger. So it’s foolhardy to expect consistency. But it’s a tactic worth pursuing. Especially in a format when there are only 120 legal scoring opportunities. Every dot ball is a missed opportunity.
With Kohli and Sharma at the top, India give themselves the best chance of posting a good score. After all, they are India’s two best batsmen. They should get the most of the scoring opportunities. Should they fail, India have a solid middle-order to fall back. So there’s no cause for alarm.
World Cup, bring it on.