Is India’s T20I top-order in the right order?
Coaches and captains always put on a beaming smile on their face, when they use the phrase, 'Problem of Plenty' with respect to their team combination. They say that it is a happy headache to have. But in the real world, they wouldn’t have categorized it as a problem if it was not actually a problem.
Shikar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul are the designated top 4 of India’s T20I batting. They’re a treat to our eyes when they are on song. With elegant stroke-play, they can make big boundaries look small without essentially slogging or using brutal muscular power. All four have excellent batting averages when they open in a T20 innings.
But when it comes to Team India, are they batting in the right slots?
In Test cricket, opening is the most difficult and thankless job as a batsman. You don’t have a clue about the pitch when you walk into the middle. You try to leave as many balls and grind it out before assessing the wicket properly so that your middle order can make merry later.
It’s as if the openers are attending an interview without having any idea about the questions to be asked and the middle order batsmen attend the same interview after discussing how to tackle it. But again, that is what you are taught to do from your grassroots if your dream is to open for your country.
That’s not the case in T20s; You’ve got the license to go bonkers right from the word go, with only two fielders riding the boundary. Even if you find those fielders in the very first over, you don’t necessarily have to stay away from the captain in the dugout, given the nature of the format.
Simply put, more than your technique, your ability to clear the ropes or sometimes clear the infield is what determines your success as a T20 batsman.
We’ve seen the likes of Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine winning matches for their franchise because of the same reason. Is that deteriorating the quality of opening batting in Test Cricket? That’s a debate for another day. Let’s talk about the Indian top 4 right now.
Out of the top 4, Shikar Dhawan is the only batsman who cannot be played as a non-opener. Dhawan, who is the most underrated of the lot, deserves the opening spot. His inability to convert his starts into a big score and the limelight that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are getting is hampering his fame as an opener.
Let’s talk about Virat Kohli. He is the world’s best number 3 in limited overs format. Period. He is too good to bat at no.4. He is better off setting the momentum of the innings rather than coming down the order and playing the situation. When he bats at number 3, It’s as if he’s batting on auto-pilot mode, especially when he is chasing targets. You don’t want to mess with the strongest point of your team and create a new problem trying to fix one.
So where do you accommodate Rahul in this top 4? We all saw what he can do as an opener in the 2018 IPL. He was the best opening batsman in that edition of the IPL by a large distance. He has improved leaps and bounds as a batter in recent years. His strength lies in clearing the infield in the powerplay overs and then playing the anchor role before switching gears when he wants to.
His inconsistency is something to be worried about, but that comes with the lack of consistent opportunities on the top of the order. It is up to the management to nurture him to his fullest potential and keep him feel secured given the fact that he is a supremely talented player.
So, does Rohit Sharma face the axe as an opener? It will be unfair on him as he is the second-best batsman in the team and he is unstoppable once he gets set. But when Kohli moved to number 4, ‘team’s best interest’ was cited as the reason.
Rohit Sharma can be batted at number 4 for the same reason. He’s got the experience of playing in the middle order and can clear the ropes even when there are 5 fielders outside the 30-yard circle. The problem with batting at number 4 is that the batter should have the maturity and skill to combat a trot of dot balls. Most often than not, the batter will try to go for a big hit when he plays a few dot balls.
That is where Rohit Sharma’s experience will come into play. Yes, he’s devastating as an opener, but as a senior statesman, he should put his hand up and accept the responsibility for the team’s wellness.