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Rohit's madness to Kohli's method

ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

Bangladesh v India - ICC Champions Trophy Semi Final
Bangladesh v India - ICC Champions Trophy Semi Final

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. A tornado and a sea breeze. How utterly incredible the two people with such different style and manner should be masters of the same activity.

More recently, that has happened to a Shaw, a Munro and a Zaman. And a Rohit. None of them believe too much in elaborate footwork and patience is a dated virtue to them. 

Rohit continues to astonish and to redefine the role of the opener; a slot once occupied by the likes of Hutton, Boycott, Gavaskar and Turner to whom taking the shine off the ball was a slow, meticulous affair. They laid the foundation, they famously gave the first hour to the bowler, they practiced denial. If you dangled a deliciously evil dark chocolate outside Gavaskar's off-stump, he would ignore it. 

However, even here Rohit stands out for his amazing ability to stay in the line of the ball and free his shoulders. The textbook, a bible to some but a mere thriller to him, would have him move across to cover his stumps, get his body behind the line and play along the ground in front of the wicket.

Instead, he remains on leg stump and backs himself to hit the ball and often, even to carve it with an angled bat. Very few openers in the game, as gifted as him, would create a V between third man and extra cover, ninety degrees away from its original location.

It is a style that requires its owner to be a gambler; willing to flirt with danger at all times, not retreat to safety after initial success and to forget the last bad throw of the dice. Kohli could not be one. He would work out probabilities and conclude that the odds weren't worthwhile. He would get behind the line of the ball.

It is precisely Rohit's ability to forget the previous delivery, even laugh it away, that is his greatest strength. To worry about the previous ball, the earlier innings is to be the owner of a cluttered mind; thinking not of the ball on the way but the impact another one has had and this one could have.

To Rohit, every ball is a fresh offering, a new game; the earlier ball, like the spoken word, gone forever. It is a refreshing philosophy but one only few can practice. And how arrogantly he dismisses a ball from his presence. Like the cruel Zamindars in the movies might be to a worker or a booking counter clerk in the railways to you or me! 

Kohli will study the offering, work out his response and in the act of doing so, give it respect. He is the musician plucking every note carefully, a scientist doing a titration where each drop matters. Rohit might wonder the need for it.

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But don't ever let this apparent lack of studiousness lull you into thinking that, like a three-shift actor, he merely turns up on the sets and asks for his lines. Few people in the game see the ball as early as Rohit, few make up their mind as quickly, few have a quicker grasp of what the ball is likely to do. 

Moreover, he isn't a sparkler either, producing a blaze of light and smoke and getting extinguished. A hundred runs to him does not seem to be a major destination, just another number that someone else is keen to record. Thus, there is no release of energy when he gets there, no need to take fresh guard, no need to refocus; he gives the impression he is waving at the hundreds as he drives by. Hence the double centuries.

Super Eight - Australia v West Indies - Cricket World Cup 2007
Super Eight - Australia v West Indies - Cricket World Cup 2007

Hence, too, the comparison exists with two other players of an earlier time who were too happy to be alongside the ball rather than behind it and who, more often than not, dispatch it breathtakingly to the boundary: Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist. They were equally thrilling to watch and carried this same delightful air of unpredictability. 

That might seem a strange word given their batting averages but with either of them, you never knew if a length ball is going to be blocked or hit past point or flicked past square leg. That is the essence of live sport, the thrill of not knowing what is coming next.

We now have Rohit Sharma as the fabulous star of that blockbuster. 

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