It's Rohit Sharma, who seems to be inhabiting a different galaxy of batsmen in this World Cup, as mere mortals look on with a strange mix of awe and admiration. With five centuries, it seems inevitable that Sharma seems will get his sixth before it all ends at Lord's on the 14th.
He seems all set to break Sachin Tendulkar's record of most runs scored in a single edition of the tournament as well, as his inexorable march towards greatness continues in England and Wales.
Left in the shadows by Rohit's humongous achievements is his captain Virat Kohli, who has had a great World Cup with the bat as well, if not compared to his vice-captain's overreaching accomplishments. But, one can, for certainly, aver that King Kohli is not complaining.
A different role
Kohli has mellowed in this World Cup as a batsman, that does not mean he has gone soft by any means. This statement simply underscores the fact that the cause of the team has transcended everything else for the captain, personal achievements matter little in the grand scheme of things for the man who has 41 ODI centuries to his credit. That cause and the aim is to win the world's most coveted cricket trophy for India for the third time, and Virat 2.0 is doing a vital job in the shadows, a job that's hiding certain skeletons underneath a glittering facade.
In the pre-match presser before India's semi-final encounter against New Zealand, Kohli admitted that he has had to play a different kind of game with Rohit going all guns blazing at the top. The Mumbaikar might be catching up to him at the summit of the ICC rankings for batsmen and may even be having a better calendar year as a batsman than his captain, but Kohli knows that's great news for the team he leads.
Why Kohli's role is essential
Kohli has hit five consecutive half-centuries in the World Cup but missed out on the big one till now. Yet, those half-centuries might be some of the most crucial runs he has scored in his career.
Let's find out why. India have looked a very complete side in this Cup, but in reality, they are a top-heavy batting side. India's mammoth scores against Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh (all games where they crossed 300) and their successful chases against South Africa and Sri Lanka, depended on the top three getting most of the runs.
When the openers perished, it was Kohli who had to play a subdued role to hold the innings together because he knew, if he went early, a crisis could be imminent. None of the middle-order batsmen, including MS Dhoni, or the swashbuckling Rishabh Pant, have inspired enough confidence to suggest that they can bat through a period of 20 overs and get India out of the woods if the top three depart cheaply.
That's where Kohli's quality has steered India to safety. He has curbed his natural instincts beautifully during his vital 50s against Australia and Pakistan, taking his time to get in, rotating the strike and then slowly unleashing his lofted drives and pulls, caressing the ball like a magician. One big example of Virat 2.0's instrumental role was in the match against Afghanistan, where Rohit went early and Virat top-scored with a beautiful 67, but even he left the stage too soon for his own liking. Thereafter, the story was of a humongous struggle for the Indian batsmen, a crisis that could have led to an embarrassing upset.
There is no room for error come Tuesday as we are finally in that stage which makes Cup tournaments so attractive – the knockouts. After a protracted league stage where slip-ups were permissible, this sudden arrival of sudden-death will raise the temperatures and only the toughest will survive.
Captain Kohli knows that very well, he is not going after any individual target in this Cup, it is all about the collective for him. That is why Virat 2.0 is what India need right now, someone who can manoeuvre the ship with dexterity, someone who can curb the speed of the boat to go the extra distance. He knows he needs to stay there for the long haul and he is savouring this new avatar.
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