Last Dance: Final chance for Kohli, Rohit to give India an ICC Trophy after 13 years

PTI, May 29, 2024, 12:01 PM IST

It’s tough to find two cricketers who are so different from each other yet so closely intertwined by the same thread of fate as Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

Rohit’s initiation into top-flight cricket came at the idyllic Belfast in 2007 and Kohli’s a year later at the more conventional Dambulla. Another intriguing chapter of this journey toegther will potentially come to an end next month in the stunning Caribbean Isles.

The next T20 World Cup is in 2026, to be jointly hosted by India and Sri Lanka, but Rohit would be touching 40 then and Kohli would be 38. The 50-over version is a further one year away.

It’s hard to see them playing in any of those, considering the increasingly strike-rate oriented nature of the game.

So, both Rohit and Kohli will want to leave the stage with the winner’s medal around their neck next month. Should they achieve that, it would be their second each after the 2007 T20 World Cup and the 2011 50-over showpiece .

And it will be a perfect send off for two players who have had an immeasurable impact on India’s white-ball fortunes in the last 17 years.

However, the Kohli-Rohit story is not one of bromance.

It’s based more on mutual respect and the awareness that they should not step into each other’s space.

Kohli has talked about the admiration he has had for Rohit since the very beginning of their careers.

“I was filled with curiosity about a player. People kept on saying – ‘This is one player who is rising rapidly’. I used to wonder that even though I am a young player, no one talks about me, then who is this player.

“But when he stepped out to bat, I was all quiet. It was amazing to watch him play. In fact, I haven’t seen a player time the ball better than him,” Kohli had said in ‘Breakfast With Champions’.

Contrasting in nature, their batting has been high art for the masses to which they added a dash of modernity later.

Of the two, Kohli is the more all-format batter, who has adapted more fluently with the changing face of the game.

He has scored in every corner of the cricketing world in a show of consistency that was rarely witnessed after the halcyon days of Sachin Tendulkar.

While Rohit built his own edifices in white-ball formats, the Mumbai-man remained a reluctant visitor in Test cricket’s elite corridors for the better part of his career.

A move up to the opener’s role helped Rohit unshackle himself a bit in Tests in the later part of his career.

But for now, Kohli and Rohit will have to lean on their vast experience in T20 cricket to fuel India’s run in the World Cup.

Rohit will certainly open and if his approach in last year’s World Cup and in the just-concluded IPL can be taken as a sign, the skipper will continue his selfless, aggressive approach.

Herein, Rohit has an inherent advantage. His natural big-hitting abilities will help him pursue his batsmanship without many improvisations.

That one-legged pull of his is a cosy meeting point between elegance and malevolence.

But Kohli’s game is slightly different. He can pull off those occasional big hits – a swat-flick six or a flat-bat smash over bowler’s head. A quick rewind to his pick-up shot off Pakistan pacer Haris Rauf during the 2022 T20 World Cup will vouch for that.

Still, there is a sore point.

Kohli has often struggled to score off spin, especially against the left-arm variety. His career strike-rate against slow bowlers hovers around mid-120s in T20s.

Several times, it has impeded his progress in the middle innings but during this year’s IPL, he seemed to have found a solution.

He brought out the slog-sweep against spinners, and it had a healthy influence on his strike-rate as Kohli made 260 runs from 188 balls and struck 15 sixes against them.

His strike-rate against spin touched 139, a marked improvement from his overall IPL strike-rate of 124.

“It was me mentally putting myself in that situation. I did not practice that at all,” he explained.

“I know I can hit it because I have played that shot a lot in the past. So, I just felt like I needed to take a bit more risk,” Kohli said of his new approach against spin.

This might come in handy for him in the T20 World Cup where the pitches are expected to become progressively slow, increasingly bringing spinners into the game.

Beyond the realm of cricket, the two veterans’ final charge at an ICC trophy personally and for the team would be a captivating sight.

For the fans, this World Cup would be about drinking it in as much as they can because once this duo leaves the stage, there will be an immense emptiness.

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