ICC World Cup 2019: What India and Virat Kohli need to learn from the mistakes of IPL 2014
2014 was quite a significant year in the context of Indian cricket. With the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar in 2013, Indian cricket fans were already searching for their next cricketing God or as they call it, nowadays G.O.A.T.
Quite coincidentally, the rise of a certain Delhi lad, from a match winner to a run-machine, coincided with the fans' quest of finding the "Next Tendulkar". Statistics started flying, comparing Virat Kohli with Tendulkar, and analysts started drawing bar charts demonstrating how far Kohli was ahead of Sachin as an ODI player at similar stages of their careers.
Kohli's Hobart run chase against Sri Lanka (2012) also happened during this time. Very soon, the brutal 133* of Kohli started getting juxtaposed with the sublime desert storm century of the Little Master.
Kohli assumed demi-god status by performing consistently at No. 3 for India in limited overs internationals, and he started getting comfortable in that role. His game started developing to suit a proper No. 3 batsman, involving rigorous strike rotation punctuated with subtle boundaries.
It was a blessing for India, as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were pretty settled in their opening position. The form of these three superstars meant that India had one of the most formidable top order trios in world cricket.
However, Kohli getting comfortable at No. 3 became an issue for his IPL franchise. RCB boasted of a fabulous batting line up in IPL 2014, which could easily strike terror in the minds of their opponents. Their top order comprised of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Kohli - any one of these three had the ability to take the game away from the opposition single-handedly.
But there was a problem. Gayle opened the batting for RCB. Kohli would only bat at 3, as he had grown comfortable with that role. De Villiers too, was at peace with his No. 4 position. So questions rose about Gayle's opening partner.
Kohli decided to solve the problem by promoting a rookie wicket keeper from Tripura, Yogesh Takawale, to open the batting with the mighty Gayle. Takawale played some brisk knocks that season for RCB at the top of the order. But the team couldn't register the gigantic scores that were expected from them, nor were they chasing targets above 180 with relative ease.
Sunil Gavaskar, in one of his post match dissections, put forward a very valid point to justify RCB's inability to frequently score 200+ totals that season. He stated that in limited overs cricket, unlike Test matches, you don't need to be a specialist opener, as the white ball rarely moves in the air. It was important to get the best players to face the maximum number of balls, but RCB were missing a trick by not opening with Kohli and sending De Villiers at 3.
Cut to 2019. India are already on their World Cup journey, and the biggest news in the cricketing fraternity is that MS Dhoni is back in form. After a pretty poor 2018 the legend has started 2019 with a bang, bagging the Man of the Series award against Australia and backing it up with decent performances against New Zealand.
This is where opinions have started coming up about whether Dhoni should continue coming in at 5, or if he should move up the batting order to No. 4 - specially keeping the World Cup 2019 in mind.
Both the options are pretty explicit and simple.
1. If Dhoni plays at 4: 5,6 and 7 are occupied by Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik / Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya respectively.
2. If Dhoni Plays at 5: Ambati Rayudu plays at 4. Kedar and Pandya then occupy the 6th and 7th positions respectively.
With all due respect to Rayudu, the white ball player, it is imperative for Indian cricket that their four best ODI batsmen get the maximum deliveries to play (as says Sunny Gavaskar). And its a no-brainer that the best four batsmen that are being talked about here is the quartet of Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli and Dhoni.
Hence, Dhoni needs to come in at 4, so that he along with the top 3 can face the highest possible number of overs, thus maximizing chances of India's victory. The fact that he will be sandwiched between stroke-players on either side of the batting order (Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli above him and Jadhav, Karthik and Pandya below him) will only suit his recent style of rock solid batting.
Added to that is the fact that more often than not, Dhoni will be found batting with Kohli. That would mean the due can steal quite a few doubles and singles in the middle overs, thus enhancing India's run rate in the process.
All Indian cricket fans will hope that Kohli learns from the 'Takawale mistake' of IPL 2014. He needs to promote Dhoni to No. 4 going into the World Cup 2019, and allow the legendary wicket-keeper batsman to express himself, in what will be probably his last World Cup.
They say captains improve with experience. And so Indian cricket fans can afford to expect that Kohli will not repeat the same mistake that he made as the leader of RCB, five years ago.