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Why did Virat Kohli leave out Rohit Sharma, one day after saying he would open?

Rohit Sharma rest
Rupin Kale by Rupin Kale 15 minute read

One of the biggest talking points from England’s eight-wicket win over India in the first T20I was a player who did not even feature in the game – Rohit Sharma. According to skipper Virat Kohli, the India opener was rested for the fixture.

The exclusion confused fans, especially since 24 hours ago, Kohli had seemingly confirmed that India’s opening pair for the match would be Rohit and KL Rahul.

“If Rohit plays, then it’s simple. KL (Rahul) and Rohit have been performing consistently at the top of the order for us and those two will start,” Kohli had said in a presser a day before the first T20I.

“In a situation, Rohit takes rest and KL has a niggle or something, Shikhi [Shikhar Dhawan] obviously comes in as the third opener but the starting composition, Rohit and Rahul will be the ones who will start.”

He then went on to surprise fans and experts during the toss, declaring Dhawan and Rahul would open. Rohit’s exclusion saw a stream of reactions on social media, which only got worse with India’s underwhelming batting performance on the day.

While the decision was surprising, it wasn’t unjustified. Let’s look at the possible explanations behind it:

Rohit Sharma needed a rest

Rohit was India’s best batsmen in the Test series against England and he has played a lot of cricket in recent months. He took Mumbai Indians to the final of the IPL, winning his fifth trophy with them. He picked up a hamstring injury soon thereafter, which ruled him out of the first two Tests against Australia. Rohit then played all four Tests against England, while living in a bio bubble. With the T20 World Cup and the World Test Championship final fast approaching, Kohli is right to be keen to keep one of his best batsmen fit and ready.

Blindsiding England

If you go back to Kohli’s press conference quotes now, they seem kind of cheeky. The ‘if Rohit plays’ part looks like a tease at this point.

While it did not change the outcome of the game, Kohli might have rested Rohit Sharma to pull one over Eoin Morgan and his side. The skipper confirming Rohit and Rahul as his openers could have been a factor in England’s team selection. They did not pick Moeen Ali for the game and the reasoning behind that might have been India’s top three all being right handers. Had Morgan known that Dhawan, a leftie, was set to play, he might have been tempted to pick Moeen.

T20 World Cup prep

Including the first game, India are set to play just eight T20Is at home before they host the T20 World Cup later this year. With Rohit being a guaranteed starter in a first-choice side, India can learn more by looking at their fringe players. Newcomers like Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan are still waiting on the sidelines and the India skipper might look to rest players throughout the England series to give them a go.

India have a chance to experiment during this five-match series and they’re likely to take that opportunity with both hands. While Rohit’s exclusion was mysterious, it might not be the only surprising decision we see from the Indian camp over the next few weeks.

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