New Delhi: Even one year back it was beyond imagination that Virat Kohli’s place in the Indian team could be questioned.
Kohli is fit and available but perhaps for the first time in a decade, the former India captain’s presence in the playing eleven could be a point of discussion in cricketing circle.
The T20 World Cup in the UAE last year was an unmitigated disaster and it was largely due to India’s archaic batting philosophy at the top of the order. The runs scored did not come at a good pace.
It was debated if KL Rahul, Rohit and Kohli are the ideal No. 1, 2, and 3 in the shortest format and the answer received from most quarters wasn’t exactly in the affirmative.
A good 10 months down line, the Indian team management finds itself at the same crossroads with another edition set to commence in October.
If India repeats its top three in Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup, then one of the three other top T20 performers — Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav and Dinesh Karthik — would find it tough to stay inside playing XI.
Pant has that ‘x-factor’, Suryakumar has a bonafide 360 degree hitter and Karthik is a designated finisher.
Can India ill-afford to drop any one of the three if Kohli or Rahul has to be slotted? It is an important question and till now there hasn’t been any definitive answer.
Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja’s positions as all-rounders seem non-negotiable and at least four specialist bowlers are required in the line-up. That leaves India with the option of only five specialist batters and hence the big question — who to drop?
Rahul and Kohli are back in the side to claim their positions which they have owned for years but a big question looming in the horizon is whether their positions in the first XI in T20Is have become untenable?
After the T20 World Cup last year, Kohli has played only four shortest format matches spread across nine months, scoring 17, 52, 1 and 11.
For Chetan Sharma’s selection committee, despite the champion batter’s indifferent form, this was too small a sample size to take a definitive step.
The bigger question is whether the team management will let Kohli play his own game which is to build the innings and accelerate after getting set.
But across formats, Kohli is getting out before getting set though he keeps hitting those delectable boundaries.
The team’s philosophy has now changed completely and even skipper Rohit has tweaked his game upfront to suit the needs of Powerplay batting in the slam-bang format.
He has during the same phase played 16 T20Is and scored nearly 450 runs at an impressive strike-rate of 145.
In fact from the England series, Rohit has scored mostly at 150 plus strike-rate with Pant and Suryakumar Yadav as his opening partners in two different series.
Both looked comfortable in that new position and Suryakumar was a touch better than Pant during the recently-concluded West Indies series.
Then there is immensely talented Deepak Hooda, who has also scored a hundred as an opener although it was against minnows Ireland.
Hooda has shown his class at No. 3 although he won’t be a starter going into the Asia Cup as of now but his tight off-breaks and steady fielding will keep him in the mix.
The ‘KL’ Conundrum
KL Rahul seems to have rushed himself for the Zimbabwe tour, declaring that he is available after attaining fitness.
If sources close to selection committee are to be believed, Rahul will open in Asia Cup but he is a bit jittery going into high stakes game against Pakistan on August 28 in Asia Cup without any tangible game time.
Hence, he has rushed himself (medical team announced he is now fit although earlier it was said his recovery would take more time) into the Zimbabwe ODI series, where he would get to bat for lengthy time to be ready for the tournament.
But Rahul despite his stupendous T20 numbers has always been an accumulator, who plays at a certain pace in the first 10 overs and only ups the ante in the final five overs.
He has been a phenomenal run-machine for years at the IPL and has an international strike-rate of 142.
The overall numbers look good but the team’s philosophy has now changed.
Pant or SKY or DK?
Rishabh Pant’s T20I strike-rate across 54 games is 126 plus. If cricket would have been a game of pure statistics, Pant would have been under the sledgehammer for the underwhelming numbers.
But big tournaments are often as much about consistency as it is about that one piece of magic that can turn the table on a big day.
Kapil Dev’s 175 not out was a piece of magic in 1983 while Yuvraj Singh’s 369 runs and 15 wickets in 2011 was about manic consistency.
Both are needed and hence dropping Pant means striking off the option of a ‘pure magic’.
In case of Suryakumar, after that innings in Nottingham where he pulled off a near miraculous chase, no one can question his inclusion.
He can play the ramp shot, change the position of his wrists at the last moment to hit a square driven six or play the ‘pick-up pull-shot’ behind square — all with equal finesse.
This brings us to Dinesh karthik, who has hardly set a foot wrong since he is back in the mix.
As Karthik himself said, he is playing a high-risk game which will look good when it comes off but there will be days when it won’t come off.
On Australian tracks with less lateral movement and even bounce, Karthik will surely have his good days.
So where does it leave Kohli and Rahul? The answer isn’t as easy as it seems.