Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been the backbone of the Indian cricket team for almost a decade. Both of these players have some unbelievable batting records under their belt. Considering their contribution, it wouldn’t be unfair to question their selection.
Virat was India’s highest scorer in the recently concluded T20 World Cup. Many consider his knock against arch-rival Pakistan in their opening match as one of the best knocks ever in a T20 game, and his six against Rauf will remain etched in cricket lovers’ minds forever.
Even though Rohit had a forgettable T20 World Cup, there is no denying that he is a batting powerhouse in this format and finds his name at the top of the list when it comes to the most number of 100s and sixers.
Virat and Rohit occupy the number 1 and 2 spots, respectively, when it comes to most runs in the shortest format. So, why is the question about their retirement from the T20 format doing rounds? Let’s try to understand the logic behind this question.
Follow Sachin’s Example
Post the T20 WC 2022, voices have been rising louder every day from different corners, asking BCCI and management to consider the two cricketing giants, Rohit and Virat, only for the longer formats and not T20. This probably has nothing to do with their form and is more of a concern considering the future of Indian cricket.
In 2007, the Big 3 (Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, and Sachin Tendulkar) decided to skip the inaugural T20 World Cup tournament held in South Africa to allow the youngsters. Sachin especially had it in him to play the shortest format, as he always maintained a great strike rate in the ODIs. During the 90s, he used to bat aggressively, which made him unique; however, at a later point in time, he had to tone down his aggression to play the role of an anchor, as the Indian batting was completely dependent on him.
Even when Sachin played the IPL from 2008 to 2013, he had an impeccable record. He scored 2281 runs in 76 innings with a strike rate of almost 120. In fact, he was the highest run scorer in the 2010 edition, where his team Mumbai Indians, finished as runner-up. So, the point is Sachin decided to skip T20 World Cup 2007 even though he had it in him to play the shortest format.
How Star Value Can Add Pressure in T20 World Cups
The Dhoni-led Indian team in the T20 2007 World Cup was without big, experienced players, including Sachin. Therefore, the excitement and expectations amongst Indian fans were not at their peak; the kind of humongous excitement that we witnessed during one-day world cups was missing. Low expectations lead to less pressure among players, and this can be a huge advantage for the team as it gives the players the license to play freely. Add to this, the T20 format was something new for many teams, including India, back then, which was another reason for low expectations and excitement.
The Dhoni-led side had these advantages that helped them lift the inaugural trophy. Now, coming to the important question; “Does star value add more pressure on the team?” Yes, it does. Cricket is the most popular sport in India. The number of fans with the cricket craze in our country is humongous.
The pressure experienced by Indian players in ICC events, especially World Cups, is completely unimaginable. So, it might take some time for players to settle down when they are on the field in a big event match. This is absolutely fine when it comes to ODIs or test matches, as you can take some time to settle down, but it can be a huge disadvantage in the T20 formats. One main difference between the 2007 Indian side and the 2022 Indian side was the fearlessness factor.
The 2022 Indian T20 World Cup squad was a star-studded side with the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, etc., who have a massive fan following. And, further adding to the woes, these three players bat at the top of the order. The initial few overs in a T20 World Cup match and the humongous crowd can make the greatest of the batsmen nervous, resulting in a slow, cautious batting approach. In T20, this approach can be catastrophic for the team, especially in the powerplay overs. The powerplay overs usually set the tone for the entire match. The wait-and-watch approach by the big 3 was one of the main reasons India didn’t have a successful campaign. Even though Virat was India’s highest scorer, his slow approach in some games was questioned by experts and fans alike.
Look at the 2007 Indian World Cup side and their T20 World Cup campaign. This was a completely young team without their leading star players. Even experienced players like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, and MS Dhoni had less than eight years of experience in international matches and a minuscule experience in T20s. This reduced the expectations amongst Indian fans, which was a blessing in disguise for the Team as it allowed players to express themselves freely and fearlessly. The fearlessness factor was the primary reason behind the success of this 2007 team which was missing in the 2022 side.
There was a time when the ODI World Cup tournament used to be the only big ICC event that used to take place once in four years. Today, we have an ICC event almost every year. The multiple ICC events, such as ODI World Cup, T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy, and World Test Championship, have been taking place one after another, not giving enough breathing space for the players. Add to these, we have the cash-rich league, IPL taking place every year.
Sadly, the merit of a team today is judged based on its ability to win an ICC event and not based on its overall performance. In the last decade, India have found itself in the number 1 spot of the T20 rankings multiple times and also went on to defeat big teams like Australia and England in their own backyard in Test series, which was unimaginable at one point in time as India used to get whitewashed most times. Despite such brilliant feats, the Indian team has been criticized frequently only for one reason – their inability to win an ICC event for almost 8-9 years.
Considering these, managing the workload efficiently and making it easy for the players by reducing their burden would be wise. Senior players like Rohit and Virat’s presence is much needed in the longer formats because of their experience.
Considering their age, they probably have another four years to play, and it would work wonderfully well for them and the team if their workload is reduced by retiring from the T20 format, which will allow them to play ODIs and test matches for a longer time, thereby, effectively contributing to the team’s success. As far as the T20 is concerned, let the younger players take care of that, as it’s a kind of format that demands aggression and a fearless attitude, and lack of experience may not matter much.