Mumbai: India skipper Virat Kohli on Saturday made it clear that in-form batsman Ajinkya Rahane is the team's third opener, effectively ruling him out of Sunday's ODI series opener against New Zealand in Mumbai.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are India's regular openers. But in the absence of Dhawan, Rahane had opened the batting for India and hit four half-centuries on the trot in the recent five-match ODI series against Australia, which the home team won 4-1.
"He's (Rahane) definitely grabbed his opportunities as the third opener. As I mentioned there was KL (Rahul) as well competing for the (opening) spot. But Jinx (Rahane) has performed well, stood up and taken his chances.
"That's how the dynamics of a team work when you have four guys who play in a similar position and obviously one of them will have to miss out as only two can play in the XI," said Kohli at the pre-match media conference.
Kohli said he would not want Rahane to get confused by playing him in the middle order.
"We don't want him (Rahane) to confuse too much by making him play in the middle order because you need to find your game in ODI cricket. You need to understand how to go about things in ODI cricket and he has always been solid at the top of the order because of his technique and he likes playing there. It gives him freedom to go after the bowlers.
"So as I said we don't want to confuse him, he is in a happy space and he knows whenever someone is not going through a good phase or there is an injury, he is there, right at the door steps waiting to play a game whenever the team requires him to," said the captain.
Rahane, who made his debut against England in 2011, has played 84 ODIs amassing 2,822 runs with 111 as his best score.
On KL Rahul not being a part of the team, Kohli said, "In this series, Dinesh has come in for KL. We felt KL, because he opens mostly, we don't want to have a situation like Rahane was going through in between, having to play in the middle order forcefully because of what the top order was doing.
"We thought that it is better that KL gets game time in the first class level, so we have got in Dinesh, who has always played in the middle order and is more comfortable and aware of how to bat in the middle order."
Kohli said the team needed to strike a "good balance".
"We need to bring in guys who have the ability and have done well in domestic cricket and India A, and track their performances and give them chances accordingly."
The skipper admitted that the spin duo — Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal — was so good that he was tempted to play them together.
"We need to find our best bowling combination before we reach the World Cup stage. We always had in mind to bring spinners into play. We honestly did not think of playing the two together but they are so good together, it is tempting to play them in every game."
Kohli said that with the youngsters coming in, a strong pool of slow bowlers has been created before the World Cup, to be held in England in 2019.
"(Ravichandran) Ashwin and (Ravindra) Jadeja have played limited overs cricket for last 6-7 years regularly. These youngsters have stepped up and it creates a strong pool for us before the World Cup," he said.
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While Kohli has maintained that he would remain captain in the other two formats, one can't say with absolute certainty that he will be India's 50-over skipper going into the 2023 World Cup at home.
This is a special team that Kohli has built. They have conquered MCG, Gabba, Lord's and Oval, all in a space of 10 months. They have the momentum on their side. And with the adrenaline running high, Manchester doesn't look too far away.
A determined Rohit Sharma showed exceptionally steely temperament to score the eighth and most significant century of his Test career that propelled India to a fighting position with an overall lead of 171 runs after third day's play.