The visuals of a smiling Rohit Sharma embracing a tearful Virat Kohli near the dugout on Saturday formed a core memory for a generation of cricket fans in India.

But as that scene flashed out on television screens across the globe, little did anyone anticipate what was to follow.

Moments after India lifted the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup – the country’s second title in the format – in Barbados, Kohli dropped a bombshell.

“This was my last T20I game for India,” said Kohli after receiving the Player of the Match award for his knock of 76 at the Kensington Oval.

“It was an open secret,” the former captain added.

An open secret? Not really, many would argue. But then, as Kohli himself mentioned, “it was time for the new generation to take over.”

Even as Indian fans came to terms with the aspect of not watching Kohli in T20 Internationals anymore – almost an hour and a half after his announcement, captain Sharma revealed he was bowing out from the format as well in the post-match press conference.

“There is no better time to say goodbye to this format,” stated Sharma, who earned the distinction of becoming only the third Indian World Cup winning captain that day.

Just like that, within hours of their 11-year ICC trophy drought coming to an end, Indian cricket bid good bye to two of their greatest batters in the format.

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Between them, Kohli and Sharma played 284 T20Is, amassing a total of 8419 runs in a span of 17 years.

Sharma walks away with the record for most matches played and the most runs scored in the format (4231 runs in 159 matches). The 37-year-old batter is also the ninth player to win two men’s T20 World Cups. The other eight on the list belong to the West Indies side which won the title in 2012 and 2016.

Kohli, who scored 4188 runs in just 125 appearances, reigned supreme as the world No 1 T20I batter for a long time. By finally winning the T20 World Cup, Kohli joined Yuvraj Singh in the exclusive list of men’s players who have won the U19 World Cup, the ODI World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the T20 World Cup.

When two dominant performers and powerful personalities like this co-exist in a same team, there is bound to be friction. But regardless of that and an ever-constant fan war in the age of social media, Kohli and Sharma were two peas in a pod for the longest time.

There seemed to be visible cracks between the two when Kohli stepped down as the T20I captain following the 2021 T20 World Cup debacle and the subsequent relinquishment of his leadership duties from the other two formats as well, which in turn favoured Sharma to take over.

Despite the countless theories floated around in the media – some reliable, some not so much – during this phase, the duo managed to stick it out together when mattered.

As they bid adieu to T20Is in Barbados, the camaraderie and mutual respect despite all their differences was visible.

“You look at someone like Rohit, he's played nine T20 World Cups and this is my sixth. He deserves it as much as anyone else in the squad,” Kohli would go on to state after the final.

The Indian captain, meanwhile, rallied around his star batter, who had an unusually quiet tournament with the bat, scoring only 75 runs in seven innings until before the final.

“He [Kohli] is probably saving it for the final,” Sharma had asserted after India’s semi-final win over England.

Kohli responded in the title clash, anchoring the Indian innings after a rocky start, stitching two vital partnerships with Axar Patel and Shivam Dube to take his team to a match winning total.

Same but different

Kohli and Sharma’s top flight cricketing career could not have been more different.

The latter was the first to break through, a quintessential Mumbai lad, who caught the attention of fans across the globe with his flashy and effortless batting down the order during India’s inaugural T20 World Cup win in 2007.

There exists a clip of Kohli – from years down the line – somewhere on the internet where he says, “Everyone used to speak highly of Rohit when he first came through. I used to think even I am a young player, why does nobody speak of me?”

“When you saw him play, you understood what people were talking about. I haven’t seen someone time the ball better than him.”

Despite his early success, it was not until 2013 when he was turned into an opener that Sharma would go on to establish himself as an India regular.

But by then, Kohli – a true blue Delhite – was already a mainstay within the team, having made his international debut in 2008 and T20I debut in 2010.

The duo batted together 42 times in T20Is, adding 1350 runs at an average of 32.14 with five 50 and three 100-run partnerships in the format.

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma celebrate India's 2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup win (Picture courtesy: Chandan Khanna / AFP)

If Sharma personified effortless elegance with the bat in hand, Kohli batted with a never-say-die attitude, pulling out victories out of nowhere. If the former’s laidback attitude helped bring out the best in his players, the latter did it with his ‘in your face’ attitude – unafraid of anything.

If Kohli brought in an era of high fitness standards for Indian cricket, leading by example, Sharma ushered in a new era of fearless new age impactful T20 batting, forcing even the former to move away from the anchor approach.

Kohli and Sharma, despite their vastly different personalities on and off the field, are two sides of the same coin. One that propelled Indian cricket to newer heights over the past decade.

One can only wonder their retirements and coach Rahul Dravid’s last assignment was a rallying point for the men in blue in the United States and the Caribbean islands, just like “Win it for Sachin Tendulkar,” was a point which united MS Dhoni and Co back in 2011 during the last Indian World Cup win.

The careers of Kohli and Sharma are intertwined in more ways than one. Both won their debut World Cups – Sharma in 2007, Kohli in 2011 – before winning the Champions Trophy together in 2013. The duo struggled to win ICC tournaments in the post-Dhoni era, despite setting multiple individual records over the past decade before pulling it off in the twilight of their careers.

They complemented each other like no other, leaving behind a legacy hard to match. Sharma and Kohli, undoubtedly, will be the first two names in an all-time Indian T20I XI for years to come.

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As India readies itself for a new era in T20Is – one without Kohli and Sharma at the helm – the question arises if the country can produce batters and leaders of such stature in near future?

Whatever the answer be, the visuals of the Kohli-Sharma bear hug which flashed on our television screens will live on. Like the one of a long haired Dhoni from 2007, like the one of Tendulkar lifted on shoulders in 2011, and like the one of Kapil Dev in the Lord’s balcony in 1983.