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Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, the club Clark Kents turn Supermen for their country

IPL anchors become power players, trading cagey dabs and dinks for unfettered swishes and hoicks

Deivarayan Muthu
Rohit Sharma is more Clark Kent than Superman at the start of a T20 innings, as is KL Rahul, especially if his stint with Punjab Kings in the IPL is anything to go by. Both opening batters usually start slowly, ease themselves in, and then blast off. Rohit's strike rate in the powerplay across IPLs is 116.50. He is the anchor at the top for Mumbai Indians while Quinton de Kock is the hitter.
Rahul's strike rate in the powerplay across IPL is better than Rohit's: 129.66. However, that powerplay strike rate falls to 120.27, if you only consider the last three IPLs. He is the anchor at the top for Punjab Kings while Mayank Agarwal is the hitter.
In India's T20 World Cup opener against Pakistan, both batters were done in by Shaheen Shah Afridi's genius. Then, in their second match against New Zealand, India shook up their batting line-up after a late injury to Suryakumar Yadav. Ishan Kishan, who replaced Suryakumar, was bumped up to the top alongside Rahul, with Rohit dropping down to No.3.
Trent Boult's swing and angle, in particular, pinned down Kishan to four off eight balls while Rahul similarly laboured to 18 off 16 balls before holing out. As for Rohit, he could manage only a run-a-ball 14, with Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi straitjacketing him. There was just no way out for Rohit and the rest of India's batting line-up as they got only 110 for 7.
Mahela Jaywardene, Rohit and Kishan's coach at Mumbai Indians, was particularly critical of India asking some of their players to adapt to new roles in the middle of a World Cup.
It didn't help India that they lost both tosses against Pakistan and New Zealand and batted in the worst of the conditions.
On Wednesday against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, there was only one way out for India: go for broke. The IPL anchors became power players. Rohit and Rahul traded the cagey dabs and dinks for unfettered swishes and hoicks. When the Afghanistan bowlers didn't offer them room, they manufactured it by stepping away outside leg stump. When they didn't offer them the slot length, they manufactured it by stepping out of the crease. India rattled off 53 for 0 in the powerplay and there was no looking back as they ended with 210 for 2 - the highest total in this T20 World Cup.
The rousing start also meant that India didn't need their other anchor - Virat Kohli - with the bat. Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya smashed 63 together off a mere 21 balls to put the game beyond Afghanistan's reach.
Perhaps, some of India's players needed a bit more time to slip out of their IPL roles and perform different roles for the national team. Rohit, however, denied it at the post-match press conference, saying that India's players are experienced enough to have clarity about their roles.
"Not really, to be honest," Rohit said. "All these guys, if I look at the top six-seven batters - myself, KL [Rahul], Virat [Kohli], [Rishabh] Pant, Surya [Suryakumar Yadav], Hardik [Pandya] and then Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja], these guys have been playing for a long time, so they don't need to be told what they need to do in the Indian team.
"What they do for their franchise is their lookout, but when they come here, they know their role. It's not that they're playing the first game or the second game for the team. They've been here for a long time now, so they understand their roles, what they need to do, what they do for their franchise is really not my concern. What they do here, at the moment, is my concern, and we have laid out the role pretty clearly as to what they have to do when they go out in the middle.
"These guys are all experienced, and when you have experience in the team, it's just about going in and adapting to the situation as quickly as possible."
India might have adapted more quickly had they started their tournament against a less strong opposition (like Afghanistan) than Pakistan and New Zealand. There was a gulf between the quality of India and Afghanistan, and Rashid Khan conceded that his side couldn't keep up with the intensity.
"As a team we hardly get the opportunity to play with them, against India and other good sides," Rashid said. "We only play with them in the World Cup. As a team you have that kind of big team pressure.
"We know playing all around the world in the leagues with them and we're used to [playing] with them, but still, the rest of the players, they need that kind of belief in themselves that we can deliver against a big side, as well. But it's just that belief. Once it comes, I think we can beat any side in a day, but that will come when we play more cricket with those teams."
India will now head back to Dubai to face two other weaker teams in Scotland and Namibia, hoping that they can finally adapt to the pitches there and make a late dash to the semi-finals.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo