Should India start worrying about Rohit and Kohli?

They haven't yet fired as a combination, and with the USA leg over and conditions getting better for batting, India may need more from them

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
At this T20 World Cup 2024, India have made it clear they want to be flexible with their batting order - with one caveat.
"Besides the openers, none of the guys' positions are fixed as such," Rohit Sharma said ahead of their game against Pakistan in New York. "We want to be very flexible in that and the message has been given to them very clearly about it, that only the openers will stay stagnant unless it's a Super Over or it's a five-over game. But otherwise, the openers will stay the same."
Rohit and Virat Kohli have been India's constants at the top of the order, and so far they've put on stands of 22, 12, 1 and 11. This wasn't a matter of concern to the team management in the first round, because the openers were getting out early, looking to play aggressively, and those losses weren't a dampener on the rest of the batting order, with the challenging surfaces of the USA not calling for power-hitting.
Now, though, with pitches in the Super Eight stage getting better to bat on, with conditions calling for a little more inventiveness and power, there might be a bit more concern around Rohit and Kohli.
India have some breathing space, having opened the Super Eight with a win, but two familiar scenarios played themselves out in that match against Afghanistan. Rohit scored six off nine deliveries from the left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi and got out to him. Since 2022, he has struck at just 120.12 against left-arm pace, a variety of bowling he will likely face in India's remaining matches. Bangladesh, their next opponents in their Super Eight group, have Mustafizur Rahman, and Australia Mitchell Starc.
Then the offspinner Mohammad Nabi rocked up and bowled through the powerplay without conceding a boundary to either Rohit or Kohli, both right-hand batters, conceding nine off 12 balls to the pair. Eventually, it was the left-hand batter at No. 3, Rishabh Pant, who innovated against Nabi and salvaged the powerplay for India.
Kohli looked in better touch than Rohit, and batter for longer, but that is not necessarily a good thing in T20s. An opener batting into the ninth over and going at a run a ball on a pitch that isn't treacherous can be counterproductive. You could even make the argument that an opener getting out for a single-digit score having faced single-digit balls is better than a run-a-ball 24.
Then, in case you feel out of form, how do you play yourself into form in a tournament with such a short turnaround between matches? Perhaps that's why both Rohit and Kohli turned up for optional nets in the one-day gap India had between the Afghanistan and Bangladesh matches, this after having travelled from Barbados to Antigua on the evening of the Afghanistan match.
Batting coach Vikram Rathour was asked whether he was happy India were winning even without any major contribution from Kohli so far. Rathour said he wasn't. "I'm not happy. I would love if he gets going and scores more runs," he said. "But yeah, it is good that when you are challenged at times and you know the guys who are not getting too much of batting in India sometimes, they are the ones who put up scores. Our middle order came to play. So it was good to see."
Bangladesh can test India with left-arm pace and spin so it will be a challenge for the openers again. "They're a good unit. They have a lot of guys who can [challenge us with] spin bowling and they are good in certain conditions," Rathour said, but he wasn't speaking in the context of India's openers. "And these conditions do suit them a little as a team because the wickets seem to have a bit of help for the spinners and they do have spinners in their team. But again, in this format I think every team is a tough team.
"I don't believe there is any contest in T20 cricket which is an easy contest. It might look like [it] in the end, I mean today [against Afghanistan] we won by almost 50 runs, so it looks easy but I'm sure when the game was on it felt pretty tight."
That last bit tells you a lot about how the contest felt in the first half of India's innings. Kohli and Rohit are among the greatest batters India has produced. They take pride in continuing to earn their places in the side, and set an example with their work ethic. This is surely not the time to second-guess the combination India have gone with. And they have the batting depth and the bowling attack to make up for any shortcomings at the top of the order.
Still, the openers will want to be at their best by the time they face bigger opponents. They don't want Rohit's proclamation about their being the only constants turn into famous last words.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo