It was a rather unusual day in the office at Wankhede yesterday. A one-sided affair, none among Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Jasprit Bumrah firing, and a rare flop show for Team India as they were humbled by 10 wickets at one of India’s favorite batting paradise against Australia in the first ODI.
The loss could definitely come across as a one-off defeat. But delve deep into it and you realise there was something that wasn’t right with the batting unit. In other news that made some noise and garnered surprise and dissent equally, Kohli decided to bat at No.4 in order to accommodate both Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul. This further pushed Shreyas Iyer to No.5, who had finally been labeled as India’s No. 4 candidate. Seems like a lot of hustling around the batting numbers, isn’t it?
There could be two sides to it, though one defies logic more than the other. Statistically, it is an open and shut case with the view that the Indian skipper should continue batting at No.3 and not tamper with it. Well, you do want your best batsman to face the maximum deliveries in a 50-over game, right? So who better than Kohli himself to do the honors. Since January 15, his scores at No. 4 have been 9, 4, 3*,11, 12, 7, 16, a clear indication of the idea not working out.
In the pre-match conference a day before the game, Kohli had hinted at the possibility of all the three openers slotting in with the possibility of him slipping down the order.
“Look, a guy in form is always good for the team. …You obviously want to have the best players available and then chose from what the combination should be for the team. There might be a possibility that all three (Rohit, Shikhar and Rahul) might play. It will be interesting to see what balance we want to take in on the field,” Virat Kohli said on the eve of the match.
Having put that into effect on Tuesday, the batting unit lost its sheen and never found the acceleration that was required. India lost the momentum as well as quick wickets and crumbled for 255, a total way too less considering the platform that was set earlier. Iyer couldn’t adapt when he came in too late for his role. The batting order had been compromised with.
Taking a closer look at the situation shows some more worrying signs. The team becomes increasingly dependent on No. 5 and 6 to get the big runs in the later stages of the game. When someone like Hardik Pandya is slated to join the team soon, where would he find a spot? The team balance does get affected and such flaws come to the fore against teams like Australia and England. Maybe the move could have worked against Sri Lanka or West Indies, but the Aussies are a different ball game altogether and can put any team under the pump.
For someone who has close to 10,000 ODI runs at that position and unmatched success, the move has drawn a lot of flak. Whether this was treated as a one-off case and if normalcy returns soon is something that remains to be seen.
Former players and commentators were not fans of this decision either. VVS Laxman cited an example of Sachin Tendulkar while talking to the broadcasters that he never liked batting at No.4. The last time you would like to experiment against is Australia. Harbhajan Singh in his role as a commentator had a simple and straight-forward opinion that India do not need to change any combination that has already yielded success.
In November 2019, even chief selector MSK Prasad had finally announced Iyer to be the owner of the coveted No. 4 slot. The stylish Mumbai batsman has the most reasons to feel unhappy for the shift in batting numbers. A role that he is already trying to settle in was fiddled with, and the match went up for a toss.
However, looking at it from another angle, the Indian skipper must be applauded for accommodating a performer like KL Rahul and giving him space to perform, even at the cost of his spot. He seems very clear of the experiment and the results clearly did not deter him.
But will it cost us a game again? If Mumbai was a conscious experiment, one can let it pass. If it was a sign of more to follow, it might not sound too ambitious. But, like with most Kohli experiments, there is was already an indication from him that this won’t last either.
Talking to Sanjay Manjrekar in the post-match presentation, the skipper seemed unruffled with the talks and views going around and said that it was about testing individuals out there. He ensured that it was not a panic situation and was simply one of those days when the move didn’t pay off.
“(On batting at number 4) We’ve had this discussion many times in the past as well. Because of the way KL (Rahul) has been batting, we have tried to fit him in the batting line-up. But I don’t think it’s gone quite our way whenever I batted at four so probably will have to rethink about that one,” Virat Kohli said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
No surprises there, skipper.