Why Ravi Shastri's idea of Virat Kohli batting at No.4 for India is flawed | Crickit
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Why Ravi Shastri's idea of Virat Kohli batting at No.4 for India is straight-up flawed

By, New Delhi
Aug 18, 2023 10:43 AM IST

Virat Kohli wouldn't once flinch if asked to bat at No. 4 in ODIs but for India's sake, wiser, saner thought process must prevail.

It's October of 2014. Virat Kohli is in the worst phase of his career. Four months had elapsed since the horror that was the Test series in England, but Kohli's mental scars were yet to heal. He had last scored a century in February against Bangladesh and by the time India took on West Indies, Kohli had gone eight innings without a half-century. During the second ODI in Delhi, an unexpected scene played out. At the fall of Shikhar Dhawan's wicket, out walked Ambati Rayudu – a move that silenced the Feroz Shah Kotla crowd. Their voice eventually returned 11 overs later when Kohli appeared and took guard after Ajinkya Rahane was dismissed, but there was only one thought lingering on everybody's mind: What was India's best batter doing at No. 4 with the 2015 World Cup knocking on the door?

Ravi Shastri's 'Virat Kohli's suggestion to Team India is full of risks.(Getty)
Ravi Shastri's 'Virat Kohli's suggestion to Team India is full of risks.(Getty)

Nine years later, former India coach and one of Kohli's closest confidantes, Ravi Shastri has stirred up the pot again, ideating that with less than two months to go for the World Cup 2023, it wouldn't be the worst call to demote Kohli to No. 4. Surprised? 2007 vibes, anyone? Well… don't be, because Shastri's thoughts sum up the mess India find themselves in: no clarity and a lack of vision. Four years removed from the 2019 World Cup, India's No. 4 is a bigger question than Sanju Samson's batting. KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav… all have been afforded opportunities, yet a viable solution is missing. The situation is so grim that amid all names, the uncapped Tilak Varma has suddenly emerged as a contender after playing three blazing T20 knocks against a team that hasn't even qualified for World Cup. Let that sink in.

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But while Shastri's suggestion is certainly appealing – Kohli averages a whopping 55.21 with 1767 runs from 39 innings including 7 centuries – it is also the most outrageous; one the Indian team should stay away from. "If Virat has to bat at 4, he will bat at four in the interest of the side. You know, there were times I thought of it. Even in the previous two World Cups, when I was coach in 2019… just to break that top heavy line up," Shastri said recently.

Rewind to 2019, a period when this strategy could have genuinely paid dividends. With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan at the helm, India boasted a dynamic opening partnership, both batsmen in scintillating touch. This presented an opportunity for Kohli to potentially assume the No. 4 slot and nurture Vijay Shankar or Rishabh Pant at 3. Kohli himself was enjoying a rollicking time in his career – he was the captain and the world's No. 1 all-format batter – and with MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya in the lower-middle order, Virat as anchor could have proven to be a winning formula.

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This is 2023. Dhawan is nowhere close to India's white-ball set-up, Rohit is in the final leg of his career, Pant is injured and Dhoni has been retired for three years. Besides, Hardik isn't as reliable a batter he was in England, while Iyer and Rahul have not played an international game in months. It's not even a debate that Kohli is miles ahead of the rest of the Indian batters and the team needs its most in-form batter to face the maximum deliveries.

Kohli's No. 4 stats brilliant but…

Kohli's 39 innings at No. 4 is no ground of comparison to the 210 times he has batted at 3. Also, it was a time when India had Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at their top 3 while Kohli was a promising youngster who had already found his feet, slowly venturing on the path to greatness. Today, Kohli's legacy is such that he can thrive at any position – he opened for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2023 and walked away with two blistering centuries. Sample this as achievement and imagine the heights Kohli could reach batting at 4 where he has previously tasted such immense success. However, there are certain limitations to consider, with the primary concern being Kohli's somewhat confined approach.

Kohli's proficiency has shone most brightly in ODIs, a format where he has flourished due to his uninhibited and carefree batting style. No. 3 is where Kohli will have the license to dictate the situation, control the pace, while No. 4 is where he will be forced to respond than take charge. Picture a scenario where Kohli strides to the crease with the scoreboard reading 175/2 or 15/2. In such cases, he will find himself playing catch-up, compelled to react to the strategies and actions already executed by the opposition on his team. Furthermore, if Kohli were to take up the No. 4 spot, either Shubman Gill or Rohit Sharma would have to step into the No. 3 role. Consequently, attempting to solve one issue might inadvertently generate another, disrupting one of the rare elements currently functioning well for India.

Nine years ago, when Kohli scored 62 from No. 4 against the Windies in that Kotla game, at first the decision seems to have stemmed from the belief that Virat needed to be protected until he got his groove back. But even when Kohli was back in full flow during the Australia Tests, India didn't promote him back. They persisted with Kohli at 4, where his only significant contribution was a century against Sri Lanka in Ranchi. Ahead of the 2015 World Cup, in a tri-series featuring Australia and England, Kohli's returns from No. 4 were 9, 4, 3 and 8. Despite tallying just 15 runs, Kohli defended the move but admitted he was best suited at 3. "I've played enough number of games to try and experiment [with my] batting position for the team to be in the best combination possible. But we figured out that it's best for me to bat at No. 3 which I've done over the last few years," a 25-year-old Kohli had said.

Undoubtedly, the 34-year-old Kohli of today wouldn't once flinch if asked to don that position again two World Cups later, but for India's sake – who can really do with one lesser headache – wiser, saner thought process must prevail.

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