CHENNAI: When Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly started opening the batting in ODIs for India in the late 1990s, they laid the foundation of the theory that the two best batsmen in limited overs should get the maximum balls to face.
The theory has evolved over the years, but Virat Kohli’s decision to promote himself to open on Saturday against England seemed an extension of that and it worked like magic. His 94-run stand with Rohit Sharma laid the foundation for a superb Indian win, Kohli himself got full 20 overs to control the innings, while India were able to play the extra bowler, which is crucial in T20 Internationals. More so with the dew setting in.
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And when Kohli said at the end of the match that he is going to open in IPL as well, it meant that the Indian captain was looking at this option for the T20 World Cup in India later this year.
“Yes, I’m going to open in the IPL…We do have a solid middle-order now – it’s about the two best players getting maximum number of balls in T20 cricket. I would like to partner Rohit at the top and the other guys feel confident when one of us are in,” Kohli said, giving a blue-print for the future.
It is to be noted that India don’t have any more T20Is scheduled after this before the World Cup, even though the BCCI is trying to arrange a few games against South Africa and New Zealand before the showpiece event.
If Kohli sticks to his word and chooses to open in T20s, there are implications as well for other big players in the team. It could well mean that Shikhar Dhawan, who is still a great T20 opener, may find it difficult to find a spot in the team.
Former India selector, Devang Gandhi, though feels it is a little too early to write Dhawan off. “With the Covid protocols still in place, I will be really surprised if the T20 World Cup squad is restricted to 15. The way things are at the moment, it is about staying in the mix and Dhawan, being a proven performer, will be there in the squad…The IPL, though, is huge for him, but then, that’s true for most of the others as well,” Gandhi told TOI.
With the captain deciding to open, KL Rahul, too, finds himself in a bit of a spot after a string of low scores in the series. But he is a player who can also be considered in the middle-order, as his wicket-keeping abilities give him an extra buffer.
The plus points of having Kohli at the top of the order will mean that many options open up for India. Former India opener and chairman of selectors, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, believes that with Ravindra Jadeja coming into this XI as the No. 7, this will be an explosive batting line-up. “It’s already a brilliant team. Kohli has the ability to control the innings as Rohit goes for his shots and once the powerplay is over, the captain’s ability to play big shots and manoeuvre strike will be a huge plus.” Srikkanth said.
On paper, it looks a brilliant option, more so with the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan shaping up well in the middle. The Indian team management is spoilt for choices and it seems that they can field two playing XIs, equally powerful, for the T20 World Cup.
But Gandhi is a little skeptical, more so after what he had experienced as selector in the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup in 2019 when the Indian middle-order lacked solidity after losing a couple of early wickets against New Zealand in the semifinals.
“It’s all fine when you’re 100-1, but cricket is such a game that you can also be 20-2 in a knock-out game. In such situations, experience in the middle-order becomes very crucial…I believe Kohli at No. 3 is a better option and he can guide the young lot who will be playing their first World Cup,” Gandhi said.
These are the permutations and combinations that the Indian team management will work on as the players get into IPL mode next month to get themselves battle-ready for the T20 World Cup.