Thursday, December 28, 2017

India's Tour of South Africa 2018: Virat Kohli & Rohit Sharma's Unspoken Competition

The series against South Africa is bound to present opportunities as well as challenges for India’s dynamic duo. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have provided the stimuli for India’s phenomenal showing with the bat throughout this season and the team will bank on their star batsmen to deliver the goods in the upcoming tour to South Africa.

While Rohit scored 1293 runs in 21 ODIs with the help of six hundreds, averaging 71.83, Kohli in 26 matches scored 1460 runs at an average of 76.84 and had six hundreds against his name. The duo have been involved in match-changing partnerships, including the record-breaking 230-run stand against New Zealand in the series-deciding 3rd ODI at Kanpur. The partnership ensured that they achieved the coveted milestone of being the duo with the most number of double-century partnerships in ODI cricket to their credit (4). Against Sri Lanka earlier this year, the two run machines put up another mesmerizing display with a partnership stand of 219 runs.

Kohli, during the course of yet another satisfying season with the bat, became the fastest player to reach 9000 ODI runs in just 194 innings and surpassed Ricky Ponting’s tally of 30 centuries to underline his prowess. Add to that, he is currently perched at the No. 1 spot in the ICC ranking for batsmen in the T20 & ODI format and one notch below Steven Smith, who leads the pack in Tests. Rohit, on the other hand, slammed his 3rd ODI double hundred in the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka becoming the only player to achieve this feat. With Kohli rested owing to personal reasons, he successfully captained India to their 8th consecutive ODI series to affirm his leadership skills.

The list of individual and partnership records shattered by the duo is endless and they only seem hungrier for more. However, both players have had contrasting trajectories in their respective careers.
The careers of both these batsmen can be divided into two phases — one till the end of 2012, and another since 2013. A comparison of their statistics will show how Rohit lagged behind while Kohli romped to greatness by the end of 2012.

However, it has really been 2017 that has helped him to catch up with Kohli’s exploits. Both have scored runs at the same incredible rate and have left opposition gasping for breath. The numbers speak for itself and so do the impact of the performances on the matches.

Kohli’s recent ascension as India’s captain in all formats of the game is a testimony to his growing maturity as a cricketer. He has transitioned into this challenging role without much hand-holding and has evolved into an unstoppable force with the bat.

On the contrary, Rohit has seen more ups and downs in his career. From being touted as the most ‘talented’ batsmen in India to receive comparisons with cricketing greats, Rohit has always been the classic will-he-won’t-he guy in world cricket today. That is to say, consistency has been eluding him until recently when he emerged as a behemoth in the limited overs game. Rohit cemented his spot in the ODI squad only after years of experimentation with his batting position. He has now made the openers slot his own in ODI and T20 internationals but still faces stiff competition for a place in the Test team. It’s also an open secret that Rohit was being keenly considered as a potential frontrunner for the captaincy role, but Kohli has overtaken him with rapid strides.

But in the last two years, there has been very little to differentiate between these two superstars of Indian cricket. Both have scored 11 hundreds each since 2015, just one behind Australian David Warner. But Rohit has taken just 47 matches to score 11 tons while Kohli has done it in 56 ODIs. During the same period of time Rohit has amassed 2665 runs at an average of 63.45 with 11 half-centuries while Kohli, having played 9 more ODIs than Rohit, has scored 2822 at 64.13 with 12 fifties.

Kohli is the epitome of the modern-day cricketer given his impressive fitness levels and with the reputation of being the best chaser in the limited over format. Rohit on the other hand, is easy on the eye given his wide repertoire of shots and is at his best when India bats first because when the pressure is less on him to play with his natural freedom.

Rohit beats Kohli in terms of runs scored after crossing the three-figure mark in ODIs since 2015. The Mumbai batsman has amassed 812 runs in 16 innings while Kohli has 665 runs in 32 innings. Therefore, Rohit has proved that he can bat patiently while curbing his free-flowing instincts. Kohli is more productive when he finds his rhythm early on in his innings and backs himself to take calculated risks.

Another aspect has been their handling of their critics, media attention and fandom, where the skipper seems to have an edge. While Kohli has taken a no-holds barred, uber-cool approach in silencing his detractors, Rohit blamed the unwanted hype around his ‘talent talk’ being a negative influence on his batting. He also rued the fact that he had to force himself to play against his natural game, which he admitted is “anything but blocking the ball”.

But, Rohit has often found himself stuck between his eye-catching picturesque style of batting and his depressingly inconsistent performance. He can equally demonstrate his skilful ability to ‘make batting look easy’ but can also succumb to the consequences of failure. Fair to say, his supporters have consequently felt both exasperated and enthralled by his ‘lazy elegance’ which fetches him those big scores and the basis of his inconsistent run of form.

Kohli, on the other hand, revels in hearing criticisms of his batting or attitude. Of course, he would choose to ignore it like any wise person should but he has himself credited how it brings out the best in him. It is therefore no wonder that he ‘enjoys’ when the opposition teams have a go at him. Kohli is a living example of how one shouldn’t lose focus of the primary task at hand while standing up to any perceived or real threat to one’s goals. This strong-minded and disciplined approach has rightly earned him all the accolades that have come his way.

While Kohli seems to have an edge over his deputy, it is unfair to overlook Rohit’s contribution in setting a foundation for the skipper to play with fearlessness. Since Rohit is an opener, it makes his job with the bat far more difficult. Most of the times, Kohli has walked out to bat when the openers have batted out the first 10 or 20 overs.

While Kohli has garnered most of his runs during the middle and final overs of the innings, Rohit has scored his runs both during the tough initial overs and also towards the middle and final overs. So, Rohit’s exploits with the bat sound more impressive as compared to Kohli's, considering the general situations in which they bat.

But, it is their synchronisation that bodes well for the team. Earlier, Rohit was always susceptible playing a loose shot and throwing away his wicket while Kohli would fail to convert some good starts into big scores. In the current scenario, both of them give equal amount of headache to the opposition captains. While Rohit’s temperament and confidence have received an uplift following a string of high scores, Kohli has adopted a more expansive style to his test batting, something that has worked for him brilliantly in the shorter formats.
Since they work very hard on every aspect of their game, there is always the pressure of living up to expectations when one fails to get the job done and the other is called upon. In short, greatness follows them around and it is unfair to say that one triumphs over the other. The fact that they complement each other so well is what gives hope to India about its chances when the team embarks on some tough overseas assignments in the coming future. 

By Carl Jaison

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