What do you do against two batsmen in the prime of their careers? You just sit back and admire the sheer quality and visceral thrill of their stroke-play. Everything else—be it personal scores, statistics, the boundaries and run rates —gets relegated to a mere footnote.
For the better part of Sunday evening, not only Guwahati’s Barsapara Cricket Stadium, but also the entire cricket-watching fraternity was in awe of the sheer nonchalance with which Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma made a mockery of the 323-run chase against the Windies.
True, the pitch was a feather bed, and the bowling was anything but testing, allowing the two to match each other shot for shot. Be it Rohit pulling Jason Holder effortlessly over long-on for a six, or the sight of Kohli skipping down the track to deposit off-spinner Ashley Nurse into the stands. Runs were collected with ease, and the shot production was top-notch. At no point, did they look in any trouble.
The lone moment when India did experience a brief moment of flutter was when Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit’s opening partner, was dismissed for four, and the score read 10/1. The bowler, debutant Oshane Thomas was bowling at top pace and making the ball hurry the batsmen.
But the sight of Kohli walking out to join Rohit settled a few frayed nerves. Not surprisingly, the two redressed the balance in a matter of minutes. It is a prosaic matter-of-fact manner in which the two orchestrate such chases in ODIs.
Having done it so often in the past gave them the confidence to see off this chase as well, without any fuss. Together, they stitched together a 246-run partnership for the second wicket, which was the cornerstone of India’s emphatic eight-wicket win, secured with more than seven overs to spare. This epic stand, their fifth double hundred partnership, helped India take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
In the process, Kohli and Rohit knocked off stellar centuries. The hapless men from the Caribbean didn’t know what hit them and it soon turned into a mismatch – men against boys. But in all fairness, the two master batsmen had laid better attacks to waste in the past. Kohli’s 36th ODI century and Rohit’s 20th was the icing on the cake. No one has reached the milestone faster than the Indian skipper, at a rate of one every 5.66 innings.
Kolkata 2014, Perth 2016, Colombo 2017, Kanpur 2017, and Guwahati 2018. They have made a habit of registering 200-plus partnerships in ODIs. The beauty of this partnership, once again, was the unmitigated trust the two have in each other. They seem genuinely comfortable at each other’s company.
After their 230-run partnership against New Zealand in Kanpur last year, Virat, in an interview to bcci.tv, said: “Generally when we play together, we don’t have to say much because we both understand where the game is going. We both think for the team so it’s always great batting with him because you don’t have to say much. We know if we play our games then the team will benefit and we can score big runs because we both want to play long,” he observed.
Back at Green Park last year, Rohit was the aggressor, ripping apart New Zealand’s bowling attack. For a better part of that partnership, Kohli was happy to just play the role of an excited spectator, watching Rohit unfurl his wide array of strokes from the other end.
A slightly different story panned out on Sunday. As Kohli walked out and stamped his authority on proceedings with a flurry of strokes, Rohit was content to take a temporary back seat. This role reversal may have come as a surprise to many who had watched the two in the past.
But the Indian captain put things in perspective after the win on Sunday: “Life isn’t difficult when Rohit is at the other end. It happens rarely when he (Rohit) plays second fiddle. Among the top three, I’ve always preferred the anchor role, but today I felt good about myself and I communicated with Rohit that he should play the anchor’s role,” he explained. Despite the role reversal, the team management will not be complaining one bit. Another ODI in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup, yet another dominant win.
Rohit makes it easier: Kohli
After their terrific partnership, Kohli hailed Rohit Sharma for his superlative batting display, saying it is easy to chase down any target when the Mumbai batsman is at the other end. “It feels pretty good. It was very convincing for us. West Indies put up a really good total. 320 targets are very tricky, but we knew we could do it with a big partnership. It’s never too difficult when you have Rohit at the other end,” said Kohli.
The pattern changed when Rayudu came to bat after Kohli was dismissed. Rohit began to take the initiative of attacking the bowlers. “When (Ambati) Rayudu came he took that role and Rohit took over from me. I think that’s what ODI batting is all about. It’s about communication and batting in partnerships,” he said.
He said it was fun as always batting with him. “It’s our 5th or 6th double-century partnership, it’s a pleasure to bat with him (Rohit). When we are batting like that, it’s good fun out there and we know the team will benefit from it as well.”
The India captain refused to be too harsh on his bowlers for leaking runs but said they could have bowled much better at the death. “You got to be honest to the sport and that is when the sport gives you back. It’s difficult to contain when a side like West Indies bats like that. I don’t want to be too harsh on the bowlers, but yes, we could have applied a bit better and bowled better in the last few overs. That is something to learn for us,” Kohli said. In fairness, the strip was most conducive to batting, the ball coming on nicely on to the bat and the outfield lightning quick, and hence his sympathies.