In terms of batting in T20 cricket, the first six overs of an innings have always held great significance. As we saw once again in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League 2021, the team that wins the powerplays tends to win the match.
With field restrictions in place and the ball nice and hard, the powerplay overs are conducive for boundary hitting. Also, as the field spreads out from the seventh over onwards, teams tend to take fewer risks, try to keep wickets in hand and set themselves up for a big finish.
So, it is imperative for a team to make the most of the powerplay and get ahead in the game.
For the Indian team at the T20 World Cup, this responsibility of firing at the top of the order will most likely fall on a combination between Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan and Virat Kohli.
Over the years, all four of these batters have undoubtedly proven their big-hitting capability in the IPL as well as international cricket. However, for the T20 World Cup, the Indian team management would do well to pay close attention to strike-rates as well.
In IPL 2021, Rahul finished as the highest run-scorer at the end of the league stage, but his strike-rate, as was the case in previous seasons as well, remained a cause for concern for the most part. On the other hand, neither Sharma and Kohli scored in heaps nor did their strike-rates inspire confidence. Lastly, Kishan played two blazing knocks to finish his campaign but his poor form earlier in the tournament, which even saw him get dropped from the Mumbai Indians playing XI, was concerning.
Again, the importance of the powerplay in T20 cricket cannot be overstated. A strong start to the innings can considerably increase your chances of winning the match, while a poor/slow one can be hard to recover from. Therefore, the Indian team may have to look beyond a player’s pedigree while deciding the all-important opening combination.
Having even one opener take time to settle in is far from ideal in the shortest format these days, but India could find themselves in a whole lot of trouble if both start slowly. The need for an “anchor” in T20s has long been debated. The issue for India, though, is that three of their four contenders for the opening slot tend to play that role for their IPL teams.
That being said, here’s a closer look at Sharma, Rahul, Kishan and Kohli’s recent form and numbers in T20 cricket:
Sharma is likely to start as the first-choice opener for India at the T20 World Cup. His recent form in the shortest format, though, is definitely not a reflection of his best.
In IPL 2021, he scored 381 runs at an average of 29.30 and a strike-rate of 127.42. In his last T20I assignment, which was in March this year at home against England, he scored a total of 27 runs in his first two outings before slamming a 34-ball 64 to help India clinch the series.
Perhaps, there are two reasons why Sharma’s presence as opener at the T20 World Cup is a near certainty. Firstly, he is the vice-captain of the team. And secondly, he is the only one among the four who hasn’t batted in the middle order for a long time.
That, however, doesn’t take away from the fact that he needs to increase his strike-rate in the powerplay. The Mumbai Indians skipper got a few brisk starts in IPL 2021 but more often than not, he wasted too many deliveries.
Sharma’s six-hitting ability needs no introduction. At the T20 World Cup, India will hope he starts his innings on that gear he finds when he’s racing towards double-centuries in ODIs.
Rohit Sharma's overall numbers in T20I cricket
Rohit Sharma's overall numbers in IPL 2021
Rohit Sharma's numbers in UAE leg of IPL 2021
Rahul was one of the most consistent batters in IPL 2021. In fact, he even hit the most number of sixes in the tournament. However, in terms of best batting strike-rates in the season, he finished 17th on the list.
Before the start of 14th edition of the league, Rahul had a horror T20I series against England, where he could only manage scores of 1, 0, 0 and 14. But he put that behind him quickly and scored in heaps in the ODIs that followed and the Test series in England, before carrying forward his form to IPL 2021.
India will hope that Rahul bats with the kind of freedom that helped him slam a 42-ball 98* against eventual champions Chennai Super Kings in Punjab Kings’ last game. He has all the shots in the book, but many a time it seems the responsibility of being captain weighs him down in the IPL.
Another route India could consider is slotting Rahul in the middle order. He is a proven performer in that role in ODIs and could be devastating in the death over in T20s.
There are two key similarities when it comes to Rahul and Sharma as T20 openers – both aren’t the quickest starters but can make up for it with seemingly effortless boundaries. A free-flowing Rahul from the start of his innings would be game-changing for India.
KL Rahul's overall numbers in T20I cricket
KL Rahul's overall numbers in IPL 2021
KL Rahul's numbers in UAE leg of IPL 2021
Based on past performances, Kishan is perhaps the only batter on this list who is likely to provide quickfire starts for India consistently.
He played a starring role in Mumbai Indians’ IPL 2020 triumph, before making a half-century on T20I debut against England this year. He got scores of 59, 1 and 20* in the white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, but his lack of form in IPL 2021 was one of the big reasons why the defending champions missed out on a playoffs berth.
Kishan, and indeed the Indian team, will take confidence from his last two IPL knocks, though. The 23-year-old blasted an unbeaten 50 off 25 balls against Rajasthan Royals and followed that up with a sensational 32-ball 84 against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
After that innings against SRH, he had said that India skipper Kohli sees him as an opener in the shortest format.
Kishan has shown on numerous occasions how devastating his no holds barred approach at the top of the order can be. He can take both pace and spin to the cleaners and him being a left-hander is also a plus.
Indian will surely have an edge with Kishan opening, he has received backing from Kohli too, but for him to feature at the top of the order, the team may have to make some bold decisions for the rest of the batting order.
Ishan Kishan's overall numbers in T20I cricket
Ishan Kishan's overall numbers in IPL 2021
Ishan Kishan's numbers in UAE leg of IPL 2021
Kohli was in sublime form the last time he played T20Is. He scored 231 runs, with three unbeaten half-centuries and a strike-rate of 147.13, to win the player of the series award against England in March this year. And in that series, he opened the batting in the fifth and final game and smashed a match-winning 80* off 52, which prompted him to say that he would like to continue opening in T20Is.
At that point, Kohli and Sharma at the top of the order did seem like a promising strategy. But then IPL 2021 happened, and Kohli returned with an average of 28.92 and a strike-rate of 119.46 after opening for Royal Challengers Bangalore right through the season.
The obvious issue for Kohli in IPL 2021 was the dip in his strike-rate after the powerplay. He managed to amass 405 runs and got a number of bright starts, but him slowing down drastically after an initial burst became a recurring theme.
Kohli, arguably the greatest white-ball batter in history, needs to find a way to keep up the pace in the middle overs. Perhaps, he needs to focus more on picking boundaries along the ground, which has always been his strength, rather than look for big hits. Or perhaps, he needs to reinvent himself. But he has to find a way. For if he doesn’t, India may find themselves in a spot of bother no matter where he bats.
The World Cup in UAE and Oman is Kohli’s last assignment as captain of India’s T20I side. It goes without saying he’ll give it his all to bag the title. He was the highest run-scorer in the 2014 edition and the second-highest in the 2016 edition. He knows all too well how to step up on the biggest stage. And one can expect him to take this latest challenge head-on.
Virat Kohli's overall numbers in T20I cricket
Virat Kohli's overall numbers in IPL 2021
Virat Kohli's numbers in UAE leg of IPL 2021
All stats courtesy iplt20, ESPNcricinfo and Scroll.in research