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India's Virat Kohli dances to music during the World Cup match against New Zealand in Dharamsala on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Four years ago, during the 2019 World Cup in England it was Rohit Sharma’s show, scoring four hundreds under the captaincy of Virat Kohli. Fast forward to 2023, the setting is under more familiar conditions at home and both Rohit and Kohli have reversed their roles in more ways than one.

The change of guard has brought Rohit to the helm while Kohli is playing the role similar to the one the opener played, anchoring the innings during the crucial phase of the match. Kohli, the master-chaser, has become even better in his new avatar, where he has eschewed all his aggression to produce more of a workmanlike effort. Playing in his third ODI World Cup, the 34-year-old, who will be celebrating his 35th birthday with a match against South Africa in Kolkata, is one of the senior statesmen in the team and knows how to handle the pressure associated with the high-profile tournament.

Kohli's role in current scheme of things

The Indian talisman has scored 354 runs in five matches with one hundred and three half-centuries that includes two not outs. The lone failure came against Pakistan in Ahmedabad, still Rohit was in full flow and anchored the chase in the company of Shreyas Iyer. Kohli, in fact, is playing a similar role to that of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the feared finisher.

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Why Kohli’s role is important in the current scheme of things, and what are the advantages team India get when he is in good form and stays at the crease?

No middle-over crisis

In this World Cup, the crucial phase happens to be between the 20-30th overs when most teams lose their way. One of the reasons for teams suffering setbacks in this phase is when teams aime to continue with the same momentum after an impressive start, which is not possible when the ball becomes rough and with the field spread out. Kohli has been the master during this phase. He keeps the momentum going with intelligent play, by avoiding risky shots and running hard to put the fielders and the bowlers under pressure.

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Virat Kohli celebrates with KL Rahul and skipper Rohit Sharma after hitting the winning runs in Pune. Image Credit: ANI

Freedom to openers

The form shown by Kohli, coming in at the crucial No 3 spot, gives the openers the freedom to play their shots with ease. Rohit Sharma has been making the most of this freedom to give the early momentum to Team India. From three wickets down for two runs against Australia, Kohli and KL Rahul took the team closer to the target with a 165-run partnership on a difficult, spin-friendly pitch in Chennai. That released the pressure up front and the openers no longer needed to be circumspect, putting a price on their wickets.

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Kohli is one of the top run-getters in this World Cup. However, despite scoring 354 runs, he has hit only six sixes, which shows his cautious approach. Image Credit: AFP

Taking it to the end

After Dhoni, there has been no one to take the match to the very end and play the role of a finisher. Kohli has been doing that role to perfection, though on two occasions he was out when the team was within the touching distance from reaching home. Kohli has not been playing his lofted shots early and waits for the opportune moment to play in the gaps. The format is the same. Dhoni doesn’t take risks early and waits for the bowlers to err in their line or length and immediately punishes them. Kohli is following a similar pattern. During the partnerships, he allows his partners to be the aggressor and he plays the second fiddle to them. Unlike Dhoni, Kohli has the advantage of coming in early and has more overs at his disposal to take his time to get into his groove. The Indian fans will be hoping to see Kohli hit the winning six in the final in Ahmedabad, similar to what Dhoni did in 2011.