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Feature

Chinnaswamy treat - the joy of Kohli vs Archer and the lull of Rohit's rut

In the IPL, Rohit is going through a phase that Kohli recently went through, but there's a lot of promise for Mumbai despite the loss

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
03-Apr-2023
As if Virat Kohli just being back at the Chinnaswamy wasn't enough, the die-hard Royal Challengers Bangalore faithful got to see him throwdown with Jofra Archer.
Lots of things about Kohli might have changed over the years. But put him in front of an equal and he switches just all the way on.
This isn't the same Archer who knocked Steven Smith down on his backside in a duel for the ages in 2019. He's lost almost two years to injury, and rated himself 80% fit when he made his England comeback in January 2023.
When fast bowlers suffer injuries that severe, they don't always trust their bodies to go all out. Not this soon anyway. But this is still Archer. And he is Kohli. And the IPL put them on a collision course.
The battle lasted 17 balls. It could have been done in one had Archer been alert enough to convert a caught-and-bowled chance. Fortunately for the Chinnaswamy crowd, they were spared the anti-climax.
Even better, they got to see their talisman produce one of his vintage displays featuring a straight six off a slower ball that he seemed to pick so early, and another six, this time a full-blooded pull to a 140kph bouncer, that soared over square leg and prompted Kohli to show off one of his more impish grins. He was having fun out there. Real tell-your-grandkids kind of fun.
Some of that wouldn't have been possible without Archer also rising to the occasion. Almost all the balls he bowled to Kohli were pushing 145kph or more. There was one that seemed to untether this game from its status as a T20 - a back of a length ball that kissed the pitch and leapt past the shoulder of Kohli's bat. Those are scenes from a Test match. Those are moments that get the blood pumping. Kohli survived them, and without that little bit of struggle, this innings wouldn't have meant the same.

****

Rohit Sharma never got the chance to see his tough period out. And it has been like this for a while now in the IPL.
Of those who have made at least 500 runs in total since 2021, his average of 23.21 is the lowest. Which isn't terrible. T20 cricket isn't measured in runs per innings so much as it is runs per ball. So let us check that. Among those who have made at least 500 runs in the competition since 2021, his strike rate of 122.18 is third-lowest, behind Venkatesh Iyer (120.82) and Kohli (121.40). In all this time - that's 28 innings - he's managed only one half-century.
This is a basic breakdown of everything that makes up Rohit Sharma. His game, more than most, is built on a kind of give-and-take policy. At the start, he gives the game its due by playing within himself and figuring out the conditions and the opposition. Then, very quickly, he takes what he is owed.
This is a man who once scored 264 after being 4 off 18. Slow starts are the bedrock of his batting. Except now he's not being able to kick on like he used to. Eleven of his last 28 IPL innings have ended before he could get past a score of 15. Far more worryingly, his average against fast bowling has dropped, from an overall figure of 30.26 to 24.7 over the last three years. Strike rate as well, from a lofty 141.42 over his career to 119.65.
Barring ducks, the 1 off 10 he made here left Rohit with his lowest strike rate - 10 - in his entire T20 career. The good thing is that his team is building for the future and in a game where he failed, 20-year old Tilak Varma made 84 off 46. He was the only one in their line up to face 15 or more balls and score at a strike rate of over 100 (182.50 to be precise).
You'd expect Rohit to bounce back from this lean period. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Kohli was going through one of those and on Sunday, he was eyeing a T20 century. Mumbai's captain will find his range. But he can still go back to the drawing board with something of a smile on his face because it looks like the investment his team has made is starting to pay off. Varma played a blinder. And their two debutants also made a bit of an impression. Arshad Khan took Faf du Plessis off his feet with a lovely yorker and Nehal Wadhera hung around long enough to put on the only fifty partnership of the innings.
It didn't happen tonight. But it will. Soon.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo