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News

Virat Kohli's nine-ball buy-in shows India's new way is here to stay

Rohit Sharma says no risk, no reward as ramped-up tempo sets agenda for series win

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
10-Jul-2022
Hold the pose - Virat Kohli hits one right back over David Willey's head, England vs India, 3rd men's T20I, Nottingham, July 10, 2022

Hold the pose - Virat Kohli hits one right back over David Willey's head  •  Getty Images

Virat Kohli played nine balls in two innings in this T20I series against England. He attempted boundaries off five of them. Two of them resulted in vintage Kohli boundaries - a four over wide mid-on and a six straight down the ground, but the other three got him out twice. On the evidence of Kohli's T20 career, it is perhaps true that this is not the best approach for him.
However, Kohli doesn't play in isolation. He bats in India's top order. It is incumbent upon them to take the risks and either score quickly themselves or let those behind them face more balls. That is the approach this team wants everyone to buy into, and Kohli is no exception.
"It's a bit of both," India's captain Rohit Sharma said, when asked if Kohli's new ultra-aggressive approach is a team instruction or a personal attempt to fight his way out of a rut. "We, as a team, we want to play in a certain way, and every player needs to buy into that thought process. Otherwise, you know, it's not gonna happen for you. And all the players, all the batters, who are part of this squad, are willing to take that extra risk and go and see what extra they can do with the bat.
"It's important to find out within yourself, you know, to try and do different kinds of things. Unless you try it, you will never be able to find out [what you are capable of]. So I think it is something that we have been trying to do for a while now. Some days it might come off, some days it might not. But we don't want to be afraid of going in and taking that extra risk. That's how we're going to learn as a team and that's how we will move forward as a team. So it's in everyone's thought process, everyone is quite comfortable with that idea. So yeah, that's the kind of direction the team is going to move in."
For years India played T20s as a shortened ODI, taking risks when batting first only when behind in the series or in must-win games. But this new management is quietly slipping in revolutionary ideas, such as wanting to play ODIs as an extension of T20Is. It has left observers mighty impressed. Eoin Morgan, who played an integral part in England's white-ball revolution, has found India's new attitude towards risk "unbelievably impressive". Nasser Hussain believes India should be in the final of every white-ball tournament, given the quality they have.
"It is important for us to understand white-ball cricket properly," Rohit said, disagreeing with the notion that the upcoming ODI series will be of lower priority for India in a T20 World Cup year. "I mean 50-over cricket is an extension of T20 cricket. You might take slightly fewer risks than you do in T20s, but we have to take risks. It is not as if we won't take risks.
"We need to get used to playing freely. When you try to play freely, it comes with its failures both in individual performance and in team results, but you get to learn a lot from that. We are looking at the bigger picture, not the small picture. As it is, in India we are used to two-and-a-half-hour pictures. All these matches are crucial for us because somewhere we need to change something, and we can see things have started to change slightly.
"The biggest takeaway from this series has been the approach of each and every individual who has played in this series for us. How they have come and relished the moment in the middle, taking on the opportunity, taking on the opposition, taking that extra risk. The mindset is something that we are trying to change, and they are willing to do that. They're willing to take that risk. And when I go and talk to certain individuals, I hear the same kind of response from them."
One of the biggest reasons for not playing freely, for valuing your wicket too much, is insecurity because of the intense competition for slots. If the leadership wants its players to fully realise their potential, there can be no space for mixed messages. That is why we don't expect Kohli to be penalised for going out and trying to do what the team needs from him. So all the pressure building up from outside - look at Kapil Dev's comments, Virender Sehwag's tweet and Venkatesh Prasad's too - is not likely to change their view on Kohli.
"I don't know who the experts are," Rohit said, when asked if he found himself in an awkward position given Kohli's lack of runs and the experts calling for him to be dropped. "I don't even understand why they are called experts. They are watching it from outside, they don't know what is going on the inside. We are building a team. A lot of deliberation goes behind it. There is a lot of thinking behind it. Boys are backed. Boys are given chances. People outside don't know all these things. It is not important what is going on outside.
"If you talk of form, it goes up and down for everyone. The quality of a player never goes down. We should remember that. And we back that quality, and back them based on their quality. It has happened with me, it has happened with XYZ, it has happened with everyone, it is nothing new. When some player has done so well consistently for so long, that can't be written off in one or two series or one or two years. It takes people time to understand it completely, but those who are running the team know the importance of that quality."
However, that doesn't mean it is going to be easy for Kohli to return to being the central figure in the T20I team that he used to be, because other batters have presented their claim while Kohli has been away. Deepak Hooda scored a hundred in Ireland before scoring a fluent 33 in the first match of this series. Suryakumar Yadav enchanted all and sundry with his hundred in the final T20I. Like Suryakumar, Hardik Pandya, too, has sealed a spot now that his bowling fitness is in order. Once KL Rahul comes back, someone will have make way for him. And these youngsters are all going to get similar backing. There is no room for mixed messaging.
"The captain, the coach, selector, they all have a role," Rohit said. "Because if we do one thing, and the selectors do something else, then it will not work. It is important for those who are building the team to be on the same page. These boys need to be given the freedom. It is very important to consistently keep sending them the message to play with freedom. Because they are very talented, and that talent will be utilised only if we give them that freedom.
"We have seen some boys have been playing under pressure. We don't want them to play under pressure. If they play with that freedom, they will do better than their own expectations from themselves. You saw an example today [Suryakumar], saw another one in Ireland [Hooda]. I won't take names. That's how boys emerge. It is important to let them know what we want from them as a team management. That message has to be consistent. If you say something today, something else tomorrow, it won't work."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo