Virat Kohli Rohit Sharma
India’s Virat Kohli (right) pats captain Rohit Sharma on scoring a half-century during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match against the Netherlands at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, India, on November 12, 2023. India are two wins away from claiming their third World Cup. Image Credit: AFP

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli: captain and former captain. As batters, they are a study in contrast. One is a swashbuckling opener and the other a patient middle-order maestro. The two have been in rousing form in the Cricket World Cup, racking up runs that helped India finish unbeaten in nine league matches.

Look at their stats. Eye-popping stuff, really. Both are among the top five leading scorers with Kohli heading the chart with 594 runs, followed by South Africa’s Quinton de Kock (591) and New Zealand’s Rachin Ravindra (565). Rohit Sharma is fourth with 503 and boasts a strike rate of 121.49.

Sharma loves the World Cups. He finds an extra gear when the quadrennial event comes around. For the second tournament in a row, he’s aggregated over 500 runs, having done that four years back with a record five centuries in England. There’s more. His 131 against Afghanistan is his seventh century, the most for any cricketer in World Cup history.

How Rohit Sharma changed India’s strategy

There could have been more tons had the Indian captain bridled his early aggression. But that’s the new strategy Sharma espoused soon after becoming captain. It was designed to maximise returns during the first powerplay (first 10 overs) when fielding restrictions are in place. That’s in sharp contrast to India’s tendency to start slowly to preserve wickets for a late assault.

Sharma has been successful in leading the charge. There were failures like the 2 runs for 3 wickets against Australia in India’s lung-opener in the World Cup. It has worked well for the rest of the tournament. Much of his confidence comes from the presence of Kohli in the middle-order. The Indian captain is secure in knowing that Kohli will tide over any crises that may arise, just like in the Australia game.

The captain’s early enterprise has helped take the sting out of tricky chases and set the top order to score big when India bats first. It allowed Sharma to break the record for the most ODI sixes in a calendar year.

The 36-year-old’s attacking instincts have rubbed off young Shubman Gill. With openers scoring briskly, the middle-order batters have the luxury of playing themselves in when the fielding restrictions ease and run-scoring becomes difficult. That’s a tailor-made situation for Kohli.

How Kohli takes charge 

He plays the ringmaster, taking control of the scoring. Extravagant strokes are at a premium as Kohli sets about milking the bowlers for singles and twos and punishing the loose deliveries for boundaries. He can afford to keep the dangerous bowlers at bay without the fear of the scoring rate dipping.

Kohli is a master at steering the innings through the challenging second powerplay (11-40 overs). His solidity allows others to bat around him. Which is why Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul have been able to play with freedom, allowing Kohli to bat deep.

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It has resulted in two centuries, and Kohli narrowly missed two more. It’s a delight to watch him shift gears in the third powerplay (41-50 overs). That has helped India pile three 300-plus totals and chase down the targets with ease.

If Sharma doesn’t get you, Kohli will. The two are integral to India’s batting dynamics. Their vastly differing roles have placed India on the path to their third World Cup win. If they work their magic for two more matches, cricket mania in India will rise by several notches.

Sharma and Kohli, they make a fine set of batters.