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Virat Kohli and India digging their own grave by trying to fix the unbroken

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Virat Kohli and India digging their own grave by trying to fix the unbroken

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Anirudh Suresh

01/14/2020

“If it ain't broke don't fix it. That's the trouble with government: Fixing things that aren't broken and not fixing things that are broken.” Thomas Lance’s words in 1977 created quite the stir back in the day, and now, those words look truer than ever - at least for the Indian Cricket Team.

Fixing things that aren’t broken seems to be the new hobby of the Indian cricket team, doesn’t it? They’ve separated the holy duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal - one that made them a powerhouse in ODI cricket - when there was clearly no need to do so, have discovered a new-found obsession towards the art of batting deep despite taking wickets in the middle-overs being the primary reason for them winning in limited-overs cricket and now, have finally gotten their hands into the one thing that didn’t need fixing, the one thing that had to be left unruffled - Virat Kohli’s batting position.

“The good thing about this Indian top-three is we can separate them if conditions and situations demand. Someone like Virat Kohli can go to number four, and we can put a good number three to bring more balance to the batting line-up. That’s flexibility for you, and for big tournaments like the World Cup, you have to be flexible to see what’s the best balance for the side. So we will decide that (accordingly in England),” when coach Ravi Shastri uttered these words prior to the World Cup, everyone was really skeptical about the idea.

But as absurd as it sounded, it did have a reason to it - the idea was to shield Kohli from the new-ball in daunting conditions, meaning even if India lost two early wickets, they still had their best batsmen at the crease with the best batting conditions ahead of him. It was basically proposed to prevent the 5-3 collapse that, ironically, unfolded in the semi-final. 

But whilst the idea prior to the World Cup was propounded as a tactical move, keeping in mind the best interests of the team, the move to push down Virat Kohli to No.4 in the ongoing series against Australia is not, and has been done due to the management’s reluctance to face and solve a bigger problem at hand - the ongoing tussle between KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. The repercussions of the move - or rather, a blunder - can already be seen, and Kohli’s innings today at the Wankhede might just be a microcosm of what might follow in the matches to come should India stick to this tactic.

Walking in to bat in the 28th over, with the score just 134/2,  Kohli had all but 23 overs remaining to impact the game, meaning he needed to alter his natural style and by some distance - a far from ideal situation for the team. The forced change in Kohli’s mindset was evident from the very beginning, where he uncharacteristically went for an extravagant cover-drive off the bowling of Cummins in just the fifth ball he faced; something you don’t expect from him but he went for anyway, owing to the situation which demanded it.

Eventually, he perished for a 14-ball 16, the very next delivery after dispatching an Adam Zampa half-tracker for a six; An un-Kohli-esque innings, if there ever was one. Of course, he might very well go on to a score a ton and might even blend into the role ceaselessly in the games to follow, for after all, he is the best batsman in the world, but the point remains: this is an unnecessary move which by no means benefits the team. 

It is not like Kohli has been moved back to a role which he’s been accustomed to, either. Since the start of 2015, he has played just seven innings at the No.4 spot, with his scores reading 9, 4, 3*, 11, 12, 7 and the 16 that he notched up today. In stark contrast, he has made the No.3 position well and truly his own, scoring 36 of his 43 tons in that spot, whilst also scoring over 9,500 runs. There are cases where statistics lie and don’t show the full picture, but make no mistake, there is no debate as to what Kohli’s best batting position is. The question that should be raised, however, is - is it really worth sacrificing the strength of your best batsman just to 'give other batsmen a chance' even at the expense of team balance?

The consequences of Kohli being moved to #4 extends way beyond just himself and the same was evident from the game today. KL Rahul, who has been at his eloquent best since the start of the home season - coming on the back of a 102 and 77 versus the Windies - could only manage a 61-ball 47, reminiscent to his shaky, more sophisticated 2019 World Cup self that saw him play within himself, rather than the more adventurous, free-flowing avatar that we’ve seen in this home season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Rahul’s career average of 42.54 drops to 25.66 batting at No.3, in comparison to the 52.60 that he averages as an opener. All three of his ODI tons, too, have come as an opener, with two of them coming with Rohit as his opening partner. A telling sign for the management, perhaps.

Maybe all India need to do is look at the similar route that Australia took with Warner and Khawaja in the 2016 T20 WC, where the Aussies, due to Khawaja’s immaculate form in the BBL, decided to push Warner down to No.4 to ‘fit everyone in’. The result ended up detrimental for Australia, with Warner managing just 38 runs in 4 innings in the tournament. 

Kohli, post the victory against Sri Lanka in the second T20I in Indore, said, “You'll have to figure out who are the people that are very similar in their bowling skills, and you pick the senior(best) one.” It makes you wonder why the same can’t be implemented with the batsmen; You don’t see Bumrah being restricted to bowling in the middle-overs just to fit in Bhuvi who has been excelling at the death, do you?

Wankhede was the reality check, the kick in the teeth that the think tank needed to remind them to stick to the tried-and-tested mantra that has been working so well for them over the course of the last decade. When an Aubameyang is scoring 50 goals a season playing centre forward, you let him be, and don’t switch him to left-wing just to accomodate a Pepe who has been in prolific scoring form of late; you instead take the righteous call of dropping a Lacazette, who has been a mainstay in the team due to his reputation. And perhaps, that is what India exactly need to do: Make their minds up and drop one of Rahul or Dhawan, for Kohli is a treasured ornament that dare shouldn’t be touched. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

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