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Analysis

Rohit, Kohli and Suryakumar script an innings in three parts

Rohit struggled, Kohli paced himself, Suryakumar flew - and all three scored contrasting fifties against the Netherlands

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
27-Oct-2022
Rohit Sharma scored a half-century, but it wasn't pretty  •  Getty Images

Rohit Sharma scored a half-century, but it wasn't pretty  •  Getty Images

The set-up
Rohit Sharma is not happy with his knock. Presumably he means the execution, and not the intent or the result. He scored 53 off 39 balls at a strike-rate of 135.89. In a 73-run partnership off 56 balls with Virat Kohli, Rohit scored 52 off 35.
Not counting sweet shots hit straight to a fielder in the ring, Rohit tried to hit seven boundaries in the 16 balls he faced in the powerplay. Yet he managed just 16 runs in that period. That is why he was unhappy. However, thanks to an earlier drop, Rohit stayed long enough for his risks to come off. The next 23 balls brought him 37 runs, including five boundaries and three unsuccessful attempts.
During the course of his innings, Rohit improved his execution, was happy to take the ugly runs, and provided some momentum after a slow start.
The confrontation
At the other end, Kohli was happy to drop anchor. Till the time Rohit got out, Kohli's strike-rate was under a run a ball without a single boundary in 21 deliveries. He had made one boundary attempt till then, in the 12th over. In our match report, Karthik Krishnaswamy made use of Kohli's control figures to represent the lack of risk-taking: 81% in his first 21 balls and 75% overall. And this was a different innings to the one against Pakistan at the MCG, where his hand was forced because of the early fall of four wickets.
Now there is nothing to suggest Kohli was not mindful, especially after he had shown in recent times that he was prepared to take more risks and put lesser value on his wicket. So there could be two reasons for going back to playing the anchor's role. One is perhaps that India have assessed the conditions and have decided to score the bulk of their runs in the last 10 overs, when the pitch has settled down a little and when the ball older.
Suryakumar Yadav was asked if that was the case, but he neither confirmed nor denied it. Which is fair enough. "Obviously, everyone must be having their own plan, and they are trying to execute it. Hopefully, we will come out again and do the same," Suryakumar said with a smile that may as well have been a wink.
The other reason could be that Kohli is feeling in great form; he now has some of the luck that had deserted him completely, and he knows he is among the best at the death. So if he is set, if others around him take charge, and even if he is going at only a little over a run a ball going into the death overs, Kohli can finish with a good strike-rate. That gets reinforced possibly because India are not playing in conditions where 200 is par. Also Kohli's numbers are not the best when he is slogging, which might back the way he played at the SCG.
However, it does tend to leave all the eggs in one basket: that Kohli will stay until the end and accelerate like he did on this night, and also recognise a 200-pitch early on and make the adjustment. There is nothing to suggest Kohli won't do that last bit.
As it turned out against Netherlands, Kohli ended up with a higher strike-rate than Rohit, scoring 43 off the last 23 balls he played. But is it worth the risk - especially when batting first - of getting out at a run a ball and perhaps leaving India 80 for 2 or 3 in 12 overs?
The resolution
On the night, India were 84 for 2 in 12 overs when Suryakumar walked out. In no time, he began to take the game away from Netherlands. Suryakumar dragged his third ball from well outside off for a four to square leg. Then he went through his whole repertoire and saw India to an above-par total.
Suryakumar says he trains just for these situations, where he has to get going from ball one. "I feel what I have done [the work] during my practice sessions back home," Suryakumar said when asked how he manages to score so quickly with high consistency. "When I go back to Mumbai and do it, I try and put a lot of pressure on myself whenever I'm going for a few practice sessions or playing a match scenario.
"So, for example, if I am targeting a few balls, and I have to get N number of runs, if I get out, I just come out. That day I don't go to bat again. The same thing I've been reflecting when I go into the games, and my plans have been very clear. What shots I have in my kitty, I just go out and express that. I won't do anything out of the box. It has been helping me, and hopefully try and do the same thing in the coming games."
It can be similarly argued that Kohli is also doing the same: play shots that are in his kitty. And till such time that we find enough efficient out-and-out hitters, it can be argued Kohli's is the right way in these conditions.
Netherlands bowler Paul van Meekeren would much rather bowl to Kohli, though. "I think we know how good SKY [Suryakumar's nickname] is," van Meekeren said. "Over the last 12 months, if not longer, I've personally felt he was the biggest threat to bowl to. Just with his open stance, I just felt that the margin of error was a lot smaller compared to Kohli and maybe a bit more traditional batters.
"They're very good players in their right, and Rohit played some unbelievable shots. When I was bowling, I felt the biggest pressure came when I was bowling to SKY. Obviously, if you miss a little bit, he punishes you. Same with other guys, but he did just a little bit more today."
In the end, it made for a near-perfect game for India, but against other oppositions and in different conditions, they might have to improvise when batting first. Not every story is a straightforward three-act story.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo