Virat Kohli - India's man for 2015 ICC World Cup
Cricket in the Caribbean sunk to a new low when their players decided to pull out midway from the bilateral series against India due to an ongoing pay dispute between the West Indian Players Association (WIPA) and the West Indian Cricket Board (WICB). They didn’t stand too much to gain out of their short trip except the ire of the Board of the Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). India, on the other hand, got back something that they were in pursuit of since the last few months: Virat Kohli’s form.
The abrupt end to the tour may have cost the BCCI dear; however, as an Indian cricket fan, if the series managed to bring Kohli back to form, it doesn’t bother me too much. The replacement ODI series against Sri Lanka to compensate for the BCCI’s losses would probably only help his confidence further. The Delhi batsman has often brought out his best against the Islanders, scoring 5 out of his 20 ODI centuries so far against them. His 133* at Hobart in the 2012 CB series, when India needed to chase over 337 in less than 40 overs, immediately comes to mind.
The true mark of a great player is to perform on the greatest of world stages, and what better stage in cricket than the ICC World Cup? Didn’t the legendary Sachin Tendulkar always bring out his best at the mega event? He scored 2278 runs at an average of 56.95 (substantially more than his career average of 44.83). His batting was instrumental in India’s successful campaigns in the 2003 and 2011 editions of the World Cups.
But does Kohli have it in him to score big in Australia? His record suggests so. He made his mark during India’s last tour Down Under, in 2011-12, when he was India’s highest run-getter in the 4-match Test series. Also, when India toured New Zealand earlier this year, he made centuries in both Tests and ODIs. In fact, his recent tour of England and the West Indies tour of 2011, when he first burst on to the scene in the Test arena, seem to be the only aberrations in his otherwise largely consistent 6 years of cricket so far.
Why Kohli at No. 4, and not at No. 3
But is his current batting position necessarily right for the team? He was sent in at number 4 in the second ODI against the Windies, while Rayudu was promoted to number 3. MS Dhoni, in his post-match presentation, mentioned it was a move to ensure that the most experienced players viz., Kohli, Suresh Raina and the captain himself bat in the lower-middle order. Kohli did get a useful 50, only to be sent in at his usual number 3 again in the next match. The logic behind the move is hard to decode, but, in hindsight, no one questioned it, either, since Kohli scored the much awaited century in the 4th ODI.
Still, I believe that it will serve India well if Kohli is slotted in at number 4 for the World Cup. With Rohit Sharma out of the side with injury, Rayudu, who is not a regular in the side, batted at number 3 in the 2nd ODI and couldn’t make the most of the opportunity. But once Rohit gets fit, the Indian think-tank will face another conundrum as to whether Rohit or Rahane should open with Dhawan. With Rahane giving good starts fairly consistently with the southpaw, I feel he should be continued in that position, as he wasn’t too useful at number 4 and plays to his potential only while opening.
Rohit, in a recent interview, conveyed that he too is inclined to open, since the discipline that is needed to face the new ball gets the best out of him. In such a situation, it would make all the more sense to bat Rohit at number 3 and Kohli at 4. That way, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
Rahane would play at a position he is best utilized in, Rohit would get to bat at the next best position to opening and get to face the new ball (something similar was done with Gambhir when Sachin and Sehwag opened for India in the World Cup 2011, and he did quite well) and Kohli, Raina and Dhoni at numbers 4, 5 and 6 would bring in utmost solidity to the lower middle order.
Statistics don’t lie. They reveal more than they hide. In this case, they are in favour of playing Kohli at number 4, too. In his 30 innings at number 4, he has scored 5 centuries, which means 1 in every 5 innings. At number 3, he has scored his remaining 14 centuries, in 93 innings: 1 in every 6.5 innings. He averages 62.54 at number 4 as against 51.97 at number 3. This should really clinch it for him.
Also, after the recent slump in his form, he should come out stronger as real champions do. He said all the right things in the post-match interview after his match-winning performance in the 4th ODI against the Caribbean side. He admitted that he has realized the importance of both good and bad times and learnt to take successes and failures in the last few months. Hopefully, he will have to build on from here. If India are to have any realistic chance of having a crack at defending the crown next year, they need to zero in on their opening pair, sort out their death bowling woes and, most importantly, need Virat Kohli to fire.
Although the men in blue did win their last two bilateral series against England and West Indies, they couldn’t win a single match in their previous two outings against much stronger teams, South Africa and New Zealand, away from home. It remains to be seen whether they can raise their game come February 2015.