For India to succeed in World Cup 2015, Virat Kohli must bat at No. 4

Despite his poor run of form therefore, Kohli must bat at number four, to support his troubled captain and hold things together.

Chetan Narula February 13, 2015 09:39:36 IST
For India to succeed in World Cup 2015, Virat Kohli must bat at No. 4

In Perth, after India had lost their last tri-series match against England, skipper MS Dhoni sat in the press conference picking up the pieces. His team were still winless after three months on tour, and were faced with more questions than answers going into the 2015 ODI World Cup.

Perhaps the biggest one pertained to Virat Kohli’s spot in the batting order. For the first time in the tri-series, he batted at his favoured position, number three. He didn’t last long, holing out in the deep as he went after Moeen Ali.

For India to succeed in World Cup 2015 Virat Kohli must bat at No 4

File picture of Virat Kohli. Getty

On Sunday then, as India began their final run-in with a warm-up game against Australia, he again batted at the same spot. There was also similarity in the result, once more dismissed cheaply.

Throughout this tri-series and warm-up games, as for much of last year, the Indian team has been experimenting with its batting line-up. While it is necessary to do so, this obviously hasn’t helped Kohli at all. In his last six 50-overs outings then, he has scored 5, 18, 8, 3*, 4 and 9 – 47 runs at an average of 9.4 (that 3* coming in the washed-off match against Australia in Sydney) – three times each at number three and four.

Coming on the back of his four hundreds in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, this isn’t the form the Indian team management would have liked Kohli to take into the all-important World Cup. Even so, they have only themselves to blame for it as the number three or number four debate has crept in.

As such, there is little difference in the mannerism with which Kohli bats at number three or four. The Jaipur blast against Australia, wherein he scored 100* off just 52 balls with consummate ease at number three, comes to mind instantly.

But the Indian fans’ short memory doesn’t easily remember that Hobart knock at number four against Sri Lanka in 2012, a marauding 133* including a fine smashing handed to Lasith Malinga. That was a better innings, whichever way you look at it. This is where things get more complicated. The debate now gets split into two.

On the one side, there are those who love to watch him bat at number three. Kohli himself prefers to bat there, a spot that allows him to dictate terms to the opposition, as he has said many times. On the other side, well, it’s all about where the team needs him to bat. And this Indian think-tank needs Kohli to bat out the last thirty overs, helping out the lower-middle order in the death overs.

It is easy to understand the first argument. Kohli is compared with Sir Vivian Richards and Ricky Ponting. On the evidence so far, sure, he seems to be in the same class as them. So let him bat at three, let him get out on the park early, you need the best batsman to bat as many overs as possible.

While it is all very valid, why stop at number three then? Why shouldn’t Kohli open the innings if he is to bat maximum number of overs in an Indian ODI innings? After all, he is also compared with Sachin Tendulkar.

It was in the 1999 World Cup, when captain Mohammad Azharuddin and coach Anshuman Gaekwad decided to play Tendulkar at number four in certain matches. In 2003, Sourav Ganguly and John Wright resisted this urge and moved him back to the opening spot, after he had batted at number four in the ODI series in New Zealand just before the World Cup began in South Africa. Then in 2007, Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell went the other way again, and Tendulkar was back at number four.

If India’s – and Tendulkar’s – performances in these three World Cups are seen, the results speak for themselves, and favour the ‘best batsman should bat maximum overs’ argument. But there is a big difference with the current situation. In both 1999 and 2007, India had a settled batting line-up that the team management thought would revolve around Tendulkar at number four.

You had Sourav Ganguly, Nayan Mongia, Rahul Dravid, Azhar, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh in England (1999) to do the job. In West Indies (2007), Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and MS Dhoni handled the same responsibility. There was stability in the batting order, essentially missing in the Indian line-up today, and the second argument gains strength here.

Shikhar Dhawan is in dubious form. At the other end, the opening debate between Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane had only just settled when the former got injured.

Now fit, he has got a hundred against Afghanistan, but will inconsistency creep in again when faced with better bowling attacks? Meanwhile, as good as he is, Rahane has shown over the last year that he is ill-equipped to handle the number four responsibility and must bat higher up the order.

The same goes for Ambati Rayudu and Suresh Raina, with both tried at the same spot, and both failed to grab the chance. As such then, Dhoni is struggling to hold the middle order himself especially since he has to play five full-time bowlers to negate the use of two new balls and changes in fielding rules.

Despite his poor run of form therefore, Kohli must bat at number four, to support his troubled captain and hold things together. He needs to rest the weak middle-order on his shoulders, weigh anchor in the middle overs, and then go ballistic in the power-play/death overs.

He is certainly able and conceivably the only batsman in this side who can do that.

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