Virat Kohli's form hiding India's batting flaws, depriving reality checks
Virat Kohli's recent knock of 154* took India to a 2-1 ODI series lead over New Zealand. Kohli scored 53% of the team total at Mohali and, in this series, so far, he averages an astronomical 248 runs.
The Delhi batsman has scored 34% of his team's runs and in the two winning causes, he has scored 50% of his team's runs. While each such knock is putting Virat up there amongst the ODI batting legends of the game, it's working to India's detriment on the whole and hiding a flawed batting line up.
Not just in this series. Over the last twelve months, Kohli has scored 26% of India's ODI runs, 32% of India's T20 international runs and 33% of Royal Challengers Bangalore's runs in IPL 2016. Since we are discussing Kohli’s impact on the national team, let’s keep his small matter of 973 runs in IPL 2016 out. That leaves us with Virat scoring 30% of the team’s runs over the past year in T20s and ODIs. If you factor in winning causes, Virat's contribution rises up by a further 13% - i.e. net of 34% of team totals.
The objective of bilateral series
Which brings me to the question – what are the other batsmen doing and when will they be putting their hands up? If the Indian Test captain keeps playing like this, we are depriving him of some much-needed rest before the upcoming high-profile India-England test series, and also depriving India’s upcoming, young batsmen a chance of getting serious runs now.
The objective of the meaningless bilateral ODI series should be to prepare the newbies for the future and sterner tests ahead. Frankly, the loss to New Zealand at Delhi last week, gave more warmth to the heart than the two wins inspired by 'Virat Kohli and the bowlers'.
Kedar Jadhav's under pressure 41, Hardik Pandya's 36 and even Umesh Yadav's 18 off 23 balls, while trying to win a game against a tough team gave more hope for the future. At least India’s middle order can try standing up, once the top order fails.
Ideal ODI batting lineup
In modern ODIs, with average scores of 300 and teams packing seven batsmen (including all-rounders), at the minimum, the top four must have scores like 45 off 50 balls and the next three batsmen scores 35 off 30 balls. Only then can a team consistently rack up 300+ scores. Where does India’s batting lineup stand?
India’s regular openers, Dhawan and Rohit average in the early-40s, while Virat Kohli and ODI skipper MS Dhoni average above 50. These four should be India’s top four with KL Rahul as backup with Manish Pandey the next batsman in line, who currently averages 62.
They six players have to be in the squad. Jadhav and Pandya hold enough early promise and all round ability to compete for the next two slots. But are we giving them adequate match exposure?
Raha-ne de Ajinkya
Ajinkya Rahane is opening the batting as Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul are injured. After 70 ODIs, Rahane averages the lowest and is the slowest amongst the current seven batsmen playing the New Zealand home series. Yes, his batting average of 32.71 at strike rate less than 80, is worse than newbies Pandya (36 at 112) or Jadhav (49 at 106).
The ICC Champions trophy starts in just over eight months time and I just don't see where Rahane will fit in. Just over a year ago, captain MS Dhoni had mentioned "Ajinkya Rahane will either bat in top three or not play at all" - clear reference to 'Jinks' limited ability to accelerate.
Rahane's current average is same as Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal's and not remotely close to what other openers at the Champions Trophy - De Kock, Amla, Jason Roy, Guptill bring to the table. Hence it makes little sense in persisting with Rahane when additional game time can be given to the Manish Pandeys, Mandeep Singhs, Hardik Pandyas and Kedar Jadhavs.
MS Dhoni must bat up - The Untold Story
Captain MS Dhoni's ODI batting average the past 24 months is hovering around 33 at a strike rate of 92. While his career strike rate hovers around that number, the batting average of the game's best finisher is rapidly dipping - from 53+ to now at 51. Batting lower the order isn't coming as easy to him.
His all-round skills, though, make him indispensable - he dug out Kedar Jadhav, the bowler, from nowhere!; stumping still at six sigma levels, backs a promising and exciting Pandya and stays ‘Captain Cool’ always. Hence India will be better served if Dhoni bats up the order.
At two down, just as he did at Mohali, he has option to play a steady knock, again like at Mohali. Additionally, with the pressure to finish every game with tailenders off him, he may just be able to find his free-scoring batting once again. It's time he lets the younger generation take up the finishing job.
Not Raina for sure
That finisher cannot be Suresh Raina. Despite nearing twelve years in international cricket, having made his ODI debut in 2005, Suresh Raina hasn't evolved to become the next Yuvraj Singh.
Or even to the next 'steady Rahul Dravid' in ODI level. Raina's average against quality opposition (Australia, England, South Africa) over the last two years is below the 20 mark! Raina should be in the squad for his all round skills and as cover for injuries, but only if India lack alternatives.
Batting lineup for last two ODIs vs NZ
India should immediately look at resting Virat Kohli and dropping Ajinkya Rahane for the upcoming two ODIs. Make no mistake Rahane is India’s leading Test player, but he (and Virat) deserve some rest and preparation time before the England series starts. The selectors have been spot on by resting Shami, Jadeja and Ashwin before England come calling.
The batting XI for the upcoming ODIs at Vizag and Ranchi should include Mandeep Singh to open, Raina at one down, followed by MS Dhoni (at his new permanent two down slot), Manish Pandey (at his permanent three down slot), Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya.
Even if India do lose the next two games, the more important thing is to give chances to all the batsmen and see if they deserve the India jersey.