Virat Kohli and KL Rahul (Image Source: BCCI)

The best thing about time is that it ultimately changes. What does not change, however, is the Indian top-order getting blown away by seam and swing in a crucial match.

4.5 years after that dark, gloomy, depressing evening in Manchester, where the dreams of a billion were crushed by the ever-so-efficient Kiwis, the Indian fans were subjected to a similar script in their teams' World Cup opener against Australia in Chennai on Sunday.

The 2019 World Cup semi-final remains one of the deepest scars for Indian cricket fans, and to see the same script unfold in front of their eyes yet again triggered a state of panic, and anxiety in them as flashbacks of Manchester 2019 came storming back.

But, there was one difference between 2019 and 2023. Two of the three guys who were a part of that 5/3 in Manchester were still at the crease in Virat Kohli and KL Rahul; two guys whose journey between July 2019-October 2023 has all the makings of a blockbuster flick.

Also Read: Rejuvenated Virat Kohli Ready To Dazzle At The World Cup

Virat Kohli & KL Rahul's journey between 5/3 to 2/3

Between then and now, Kohli underwent the worst phase in his international career as he lost his ODI captaincy and his form, only to rebound stunningly at last year's T20 World Cup.

While KL, well, he lived many lives during these past 4.5 years. 

To put things into perspective, all of this happened while he established himself as the best middle-order batsman in the world in this format.

Which Rahul would turn up at the World Cup was one of the biggest question marks leading into the marquee event even as he continued to recover from injury.

Also Read: Indian Cricket Team In World Cups: Memorable Run-chases

The innings that flicked a switch for KL Rahul

KL Rahul thanks the Almighty after scoring a 100 vs Pakistan (Image Source: BCCI)

Last month, India traveled to Sri Lanka to participate in the Asia Cup, but Rahul was not a part of the initial traveling squad. He was slated to join later, and while he did join the squad ahead of the Super-4 game against Pakistan, as per his admission, he was not the first-choice keeper in the starting XI.

It was only after Shreyas Iyer complained of back spasms on the morning of the match that KL was slotted into the XI.

Okay, let's pause here for a second, and return to yesterday's match. Rahul had just kept wickets for 50 overs in the unrelenting humidity of Chennai, and as per his revelation, he was looking to take a short break after a shower to recharge his batteries.

Little did he know that he would be rushing out to the middle in a matter of few minutes as India lost 3 batsmen in no time.

Now, this wasn't an alien situation for Rahul from a cricketing point of view. Over the last 4 years, he had bailed the team out in tricky run-chases time and again. But, this was no ordinary game. It was the opening game of India's World Cup campaign against the charged-up Aussie pacers, who were hungry for more victims.

The stakes were at an all-time high, and failure was not an option.

Could Rahul soak up the pressure and provide support to Virat at the other end? 

KL Rahul raises his bat after a hard-fought 50 (Image Source: BCCI)

This Rahul felt different. This Rahul seemed confident in his ability. There was a sense of calmness about him. His body language looked aggressive, and yet he looked in total control of the proceedings.

You see, Rahul is a confidence-driven player. This is why his performance against Pakistan in last month's Asia Cup must be looked at beyond numbers. From not even being in the initial first-choice XI to scoring a match-winning hundred against the arch-rivals, and then keeping as well as he did, must have flicked a switch in his head.

Because you see, no matter how much players downplay the magnitude of the India-Pakistan game, it is a fact that performances and failures against each other can parachute a player to super-stardom or in the dark alley of wilderness.

That Asia Cup knock against Pakistan couldn't have come at a better time for the stylish batsman, and since then, one can just see the difference in his demeanor and approach.

So, when Rahul came to the crease to join Virat, he was no longer looking to just survive and stay in the shadows of the legendary batsman. The first confident stroke from an Indian willow came via him as he leaned into a beautiful cover drive off Josh Hazlewood.

Rahul kept punishing the bad deliveries at regular intervals, which also allowed Virat to breathe a sigh of relief at the other end as the champion batsman slowly got himself going after a nervy start to settle in his auto-pilot mode.

King Kohli slays past demons to script redemption

Virat Kohli after scoring yet another 50 (Image Source: BCCI)

While Rahul continued to script his redemption from one end, the legendary Kohli was fighting his own battles on the other.

Arguably, the greatest ODI batsman ever, Virat, has refined the art of chasing in this format, but ironically, his record while chasing at the showpiece event isn't up to his standards, albeit he did score that priceless 35 in the 2011 World Cup final.

Add his lack of match practice in recent times and seamer-friendly conditions, the champion cricketer certainly had quite a task on his hands. He understandably looked rusty at the start and tried to slash at balls outside off-stump to get the feel of the ball, and was even dropped by Mitch Marsh after he failed to connect an attempted hook shot off Josh Hazlewood.

Virat Kohli dabs (Image Source: BCCI0

But, the beauty of Virat Kohli is that even if you knock him down with a few blows, he comes back with more venom and determination.

Every Kohli masterclass has a shot of authority, which signals to everyone that he has assumed auto-pilot mode, and, if you are a bowler, you can only hope for him to make a mistake.

That moment came when he charged down to Hazlewood and drove the fast bowler down the ground with supreme authority. He did commit a mistake shortly afterward, but Mitch Marsh couldn't latch onto it.

That was a signal that it was Kohli's night and post that reprieve, and until he got out for 85, the 34-year-old milked the Aussies for fun.

KL Rahul landed the killer blow

KL Rahul was super dominant vs spin (Image Source: BCCI)

While Virat settled into his typical avatar, Rahul continued to stamp his authority by being the point of difference. Like every great batsman does, the stylish right-hander took it upon himself to attack Australia's premier spinner Adam Zampa in his very first over.

Rahul took Zampa for three supremely crafted boundaries, and the Aussie wrist-spinner just could not recover from that. Neither could Australia.

But, Rahul was just not about beautiful strokeplay. He also showed his immense fitness and expertise in gap dissection by running 44 singles, 3 doubles, and 1 triple to complement Kohli's 47 singles and 7 doubles.

Both Virat (85) and Rahul (97*) couldn't get to their respective well-deserved hundreds, but what they achieved that night is something that would have helped them shed their respective baggage, and go from strength to strength to make this World Cup a cherished story of their lives.

Featured Image Credit: BCCI