Focus on Kohli’s ‘template’ in Mohali

Before eight cheetahs from Namibia arrived, Virat Kohli was one of the most trending topics in India. Kohli’s lean patch, his six-week break from international cricket, the way he opened up about his “mental health,” how he was “disturbed” to find he “wasn’t excited to play or practice,” and then finally, the century No 71, which ended the three-years-long drought.

India have thrown their lot behind Kohli after they went through a very conservative ‘experimental’ phase which lacked real experiments. India didn’t quite explore trying Rishab Pant as opener or even giving Prithvi Shaw a go to see how he does. Or give Suryakumar Yadav the No.3 position. In fact, they demoted Deepak Hooda after he had done well at the top.

So, after going around in circles, India have come back to Kohli.

Kohli finally got his 71st international hundred in the inconsequential final Super 4 Asia Cup game against Afghanistan. He did give a glimpse of him coming back to his pomp. But at the same time, one must not forget that his 61-ball 122 came against a tired and jaded Afghanistan side, who were playing back-to-back games in the Dubai heat after their soul-sucking loss to Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s captain Mohammad Nabi revealed that their players took sleeping pills after their defeat against Pakistan. Afghanistan were ahead in the game until Naseem Shah struck two match-winning sixes to shatter their hopes.

Yes, Kohli’s authoritative pull shots through mid-wicket were back, but so was his habit of chasing the ball outside the off stump. In the first game against Pakistan, he faced a brute of a delivery from Naseem Shah; Kohli gave a wry smile after leaving the bowl. Next ball, Kohli was lulled into a loose drive and got a thick edge only for Fakhar Zaman to drop it at the third slip. Against Shah, in particular, he could have got out at least three times before he was eventually dismissed.

He hardly looked at ease even against a weaker Hong Kong during his unbeaten 59. India would have been in trouble if not for Suryakumar Yadav’s 25-ball 68.

Against the quality bowling attack of Pakistan in the Asia Cup, Kohli never looked settled.

One can cut him some slack as he was coming after the break, and it is not easy to get going right from the word go. But at the same time, with Kohli in the team, the management had to drop Sanju Samson and Deepak Hooda. Sanju did his chances no harm with whatever opportunities he got in the last twelve months. On the other hand, Hooda scored a brilliant century against Ireland while batting at 3. Hooda can bring more balance to the team with his valuable off-spin and it would give Rohit the option to bring in Dinesh Karthik, the only finisher India have got in their fifteen.

Going back to the old template

In his free-wheeling chat to Rohit Sharma after India’s ouster from the Asia Cup, Virat Kohli said he has realised that he should stick to his tried and tested ‘template’ where six-hitting isn’t always a priority.

Indeed, no one can forget the Virat Kohli masterclass against Tuesday’s opponent at the same venue in Mohali. But that was 2016 and we are in 2022. Since then, the T20 has evolved, where a 10-ball 25 can significantly impact the game more than a 50-ball 70.

Ever since Rohit Sharma took over as captain of India in the shorter format, he has been bullish about the aggressive approach.

“We have made it very clear after the T20 World Cup in Dubai when we didn’t qualify (for the semi-final). We felt that there needs to be a change in our attitude, in our approach to how we play the game,” Rohit has said before the Asia Cup.

Kohli has to open 

With Virat returning to his old template, will it work for Rohit Sharma? It can only work if he opens the innings with Rohit Sharma, where he can play the anchor role. But for that, India will have to drop KL Rahul, whose timid approach in the T20Is in the recent past has been questionable. So in a game of 120 balls, having two anchors in their top three is a considerable risk that India’s selectors have taken for the T20 World Cup. Virat’s template can only work, if KL Rahul can manage to rediscover his past form from pre-IPL captaincy years where he used to go berserk from ball one. Otherwise, it will be a Dubai deja vu for Rohit Sharma and co in Down Under.

However, Rohit has confirmed that Virat Kohli is going to be the third opener but at the same time, he maintained that KL Rahul is going to open for India.

“Since we have not taken the third opener, he can obviously open. I don’t think we are going to experiment. KL Rahul is going to be our opener in the World Cup for sure,” Rohit said.

All eyes will be on Kohli again

Now the dust has settled, and the monkey is off Virat’s back. But against Australia and then South Africa, he will be up against probably the world’s best fast bowlers.

Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood must have seen the way Naseem and co bowled to Virat in the Asia Cup. The Australian duo will test him again with that probing length.

Rohit emphasised during his chat with Virat that for India to do well at the T20 World Cup, the form of Kohli would be crucial.

One hopes that in the six T20Is (three each against Australia and South Africa), Kohli will find his consistency for himself, for India, and his fans and only time will decide if he is back or not.

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