At the exact moment Rohit Sharma put his hand up and sent Virat Kohli back on Tuesday, he was just two yards outside his batting crease. By then, Kohli had already crossed the halfway-point of no return. He was nearly parallel to where the ball had pitched. Rohit had tucked the length delivery in the direction of point. While Kohli set off at full tilt immediately, his partner took two strides out and then changed his mind.
The ball had barely gone 10 yards to his right and reached the second practice pitch. And JP Duminy at point wasn’t in the frame when Kohli turned mid-stride. But the South African still had enough time to pick up the ball, under-arm it and score a direct-hit at the non-striker’s end. Just like that, Kohli and Rohit had been party to a run-out, again. It was the seventh time in 62 innings that they’d batted together—one out of nearly 9 partnerships.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone though that for all the runs they’ve put on together over the years, the two have very often disagreed on the feasibility of a single. In Rohit and Kohli you have one batsman who starts with a stutter and seems to have one hand on the hand-brake when he sets off, and his partner who doesn’t seem to have any brakes at all. It’s a disaster literally waiting to happen.
To their credit though, despite the occasional mix ups, the two have put on 3518 runs together at an average of 60.65, which is by far the highest for any pair that has put on over 3500 runs. The Rohit-Virat combo are just 52 runs short of going past the Dhoni-Raina pair and entering the top-20 batting pairs of all time.
Abhishek Nayar, veteran Mumbai all-rounder, has vast experience of running between the wickets with Rohit. He also has been part of a run-out with Kohli. Nayar recalls having never really had much of a bother in terms of judging and completing runs with his longstanding Mumbai teammate. He puts it down to compatability and understanding, the two vital hallmarks of a successful batting pair’s ability to run between the wickets.
“Rohit has never been one who looks to drop and run. He’s always more comfortable with safe singles. He’s got so much time on the ball, you’ll see him getting singles to thirdman, square-leg or fine-leg but never off just a push towards the off-side,” says Nayar.
The Indian opener’s tendency to take a couple of strides instinctively upon playing a stroke can be a put off for his partner, especially if it’s one like Kohli who’s always ready to scurry across at the first signal. In a couple of their run-outs, like the one at Port Elizabeth and in 2013 when Rohit scored his first double-hundred at Bangalore, Kohli has been left stranded because of his partner seemingly calling off the single after those two confusing strides.
So what you end up having is one batsman who seems wary of commitment on occasions and another who’s always keen on going all the way. Nayar puts Rohit’s stutter at the start to his inherent quest for runs.
“Rohit and Virat are both aggressive batsmen and are always looking for runs. You’ll see batsmen like that always looking keen to push for a single as soon as they connect with the ball. It’s their instinct,” he explains.
The reason Nayar believes Rohit at times then pulls the chain on a run is because he always prefers taking a punt on avoiding a risky single and backing himself to make up for it with his destructive abilities with the bat later in the innings.
The traditional coach’s manual recommends that line of sight dictates who takes a call on a run. The striker “calls” any shot played in front of the wicket and it’s the non-striker who decides on those where the ball goes behind the wicket. In a way, the point region becomes a contentious zone. Nayar admits that whenever he batted with Rohit, he would take the responsibility for runs in the cover-to-point region.
“Running a single to point is all about understanding not only between you and your partner but also of the opposition’s intent. From the non-striker’s end you can make out whether the point fielder is attacking — almost at 15 yards trying to stop the single or they’re being defensive and he’s back at the 30-yard circle,” he explains.
In his opinion, what made the run difficult at Port Elizabeth was that Duminy had been closing in from point. And the fact that he could underarm the ball to the bowler’s end is testament to that. Meanwhile, in the mix-up with Ajinkya Rahane, who was run-out as well, it was perhaps a case of the batsman himself commiting to the run late — once Rohit had turned his back and was looking at the ball to reach the mid-on fielder.
Question of trust
The quickest runners aren’t always the best runners. It’s not about getting to the other end quicker than anybody else. It does help yes. But what’s more important is for you to not only ensure your wicket is safe at the end of the run, but also that your partner isn’t sacrificed in the process. It’s about trust, the kind Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir shared to just tip and run without calling. Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan too, Nayar adds.
Or even when the Kohli-Dhoni combination is batting. These two are lightning quick between wickets and seem to have a telepathic understanding when it comes to judging a single. More often than not they manage to run two when it always seemed that there was only a single.
But having an aggressive runner like Kohli at the other end can make life difficult for his partner too at times, especially for a younger partner. Just think back to Karun Nair’s Test debut a year-and-a-half ago when he seemingly had no choice but to respond to his captain’s call for a single and be run-out in his first innings.
But it’s the Kohli way always. Nayar recalls the time he played a flick shot in the Emerging Players Tournament final at Brisbane back in 2009 and found Kohli literally next to him before he’d completed the shot. He reacted instinctively by running, and was easily run-out at the other end. Kohli went on to score a ton.
Perhaps at this stage of his ODI career, Rohit can stand his ground. He mayeven holds an edge over his captain in terms of the mayhem that can be generated towards the end of an innings.
And it’s no coincidence perhaps that in their seven mix-ups, it’s Kohli who’s been run out on 5 occasions. Rohit has justified standing his ground too, scoring two centuries and two double-centuries on those occasions. Incidentally, the two times Rohit has been at the receiving end came only last year.
“Rohit is not the quickest runner and he knows that. But he’s one of the smartest at judging a run. He knows when he can make his ground and you’ll see him go for the run only then,” Nayar chips in.
For the high percentage of mix-ups, Kohli and Rohit do enjoy batting together. And they seem to enjoy watching each other bat too. Kohli was the first one to jump up in delight when Rohit was dropped at thirdman by Tabraiz Shamsi while in his 90s.
Nayar sums it up best when he says, “The few times they have a misunderstanding while running, the opposition gets a reprieve. On days when they don’t, it’s curtains for the opposition.”