Can Virat Kohli be India’s Number 3 in Test cricket?
Analysing India's options at the No. 3 batting position in Tests and arguing for Virat Kohli as the best candidate for the role.
As they say, ‘bowlers win you the test matches.’ But, batsman set up the matches, as they need to put up the score on the board. If we look at the successful Test teams, we will find they have one thing in common – a strong batsman at the No. 3 position. All the teams who have enjoyed success over the years have often had a very good No. 3 batsman.
Sir Viv Richards, Sir Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara,Younis Khan, Jacques Kallis, and our favourite, Rahul Dravid are a few examples. They have orchestrated many Test wins for their respective teams batting at number 3, as only a good, technically sound batsman can enjoy success at that position. The fortunes of a Test team are mostly decided by how good their number 3 batsman is. One such innings which comes to my mind is VVS Laxman’s 281 at Eden Gardens in the 2001 Border-Gavaskar series to win the match for India after following on.
A long season is going to start for team India and they have been looking for a solid number 3 batsman since the retirement of Rahul Dravid. Many players have been tried at number 3 but India are still looking for a suitable replacement. These 17 Test matches in next 12 months can help the captain, Virat Kohli, and the coach, Anil Kumble, to find a settled batting line up which can serve India in years to come. India, however, are blessed to have a lot of batsmen who can fit in at number 3. Let’s look at the options.
Looking at current options India has for Number 3
KL Rahul: KL is primarily an opener and had all is his success as an opener but he can be used as a number three if required. But seeing the form of Shikhar Dhawan in Tests, we need Rahul more as a standby opener than a number 3 batsman.
Rohit Sharma: As we all know, Rohit Sharma is immensely talented and has the backing of Virat Kohli. He started well at number 3 but failed to capitalise. Rohit can be an aggressive option at number 3 as he can take the game away from opposition very quickly. But the question is, does he have the technique to survive in testing conditions? He is still to replicate the success of coloured clothing in white clothes. Also, with the range of shots Rohit has, he is more suited to batting at number 5 or 6.
Ajinkya Rahane: Rahane is the latest entry at number 3. He batted at number 3 in Sri Lanka and scored a century as well. But in sub-continental conditions, a batsman of Rahane’s Pedigree will score, no matter what position he bats at. He is a much better batsman playing the second new ball rather than the first. India need him at number 5.
Cheteshwar Pujara: For once, Pujara was considered to be the best bet to replace Rahul Dravid at number 3. He even enjoyed a purple patch at number three early on but failed to perform consistently on the tours of England and Australia, and later lost his place as Kohli decided to go with five bowlers. He made a great comeback in the last Test match against Sri Lanka as an opener and scored a match-defining 145 to get India to the victory in the decider. Pujara has been, at times, found stuck at the crease, and thus allows the opposition to come on top. Top teams like Australia and England can take advantage of it. Also, of late, he has been getting out even after getting set.
Why Virat Kohli should bat at Number 3 in Test cricket
There is no denying the fact that Kohli is a great batsman but he is still to prove himself at the test level. Let’s look at the reasons which support Kohli’s promotion to number 3 in Test matches.
His Success in ODIs at Number 3: Virat’s records in One day cricket speak Kohli the batsman. He is already a one-day batting legend. Once he got the number 3 slot, there was no looking back. He has made number 3 his own. He can dictate terms in Tests as well from the number 3 position and can be a threat for the opposition. He likes to take on the challenges and there is no reason why he can’t replicate his ODI success in Test cricket as well.
Virat’s batting style, technique, and temperament: Kohli has a very solid defensive technique and also possesses all the shots in the book. He can play the role of sheet anchor, and can also take the attack to the opposition. He is at home against spin and pace. Kohli’s temperament can help him to succeed at number 3. His game is best suited to number 3.
This is the best time to try Virat at Number 3: India had a tough time travelling during the last couple of years in Test cricket. But now, we have 4 Tests in West Indies and then we will play 13 Tests at home. These 17 tests can help Kohli understand his game at Number 3, and can help India once they start playing.
Best batsman should bat at Number 3: The best batsman of the team should bat at Number 3, and Virat is, by far, India’s best batsman. When Kohli comes to bat at number 4, more often that not he finds India two down with pretty much nothing on the board, and he has to curb his natural instincts to build the innings. Kohli is someone who likes to take the attack to the opposition, just like Ricky Ponting. With Kohli at 3, and Rahane at 4, India can have a very solid middle order with others at 5 and 6.
Have a look at other batting greats of the modern era: Kane Williamson, Joe Root, and Steven Smith are the other three batsmen along with Virat Kohli who form the quartet of the modern greats. Kane Williamson, the Kiwi captain has shown his special liking to Number 3. His form at number three has been instrumental in the rise of New Zealand cricket. “Joe Root is our long-term Number 3,” England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss had said. Trevor Bayliss sees Joe Root as their number three. Steve Smith, the Australian Captain, had a lot of success batting one down against India last summer. Though he was tested against the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson in English conditions but still, he has the game to make Australia the world-beaters once again.
Leading from the front: Kohli likes to lead from the front. With him coming at number three, he will get ample opportunities to lead India by example and put India into the driver’s seat.
Considering the above options, I feel the Virat Kohli at number 3 can be a gamble worth taking. Kohli’s success at number three can take Indian cricket to new heights.