“Maybe Rahul’s loss of form has been a blessing in disguise,” he says
Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar believes the lack of runs from regular opener KL Rahul has ended up benefiting India by providing them with an ideal opening combination of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Following scores of 1, 0, 0 and 14 from Rahul, India dropped him for the T20I series decider against England on Saturday, thus pushing Kohli up the order to partner Sharma and the duo put on a 94-run stand in just nine overs to set the platform for a match-winning total of 224.
“Your best batsman should bat the most number of overs in limited-overs cricket. So it was very important for Virat Kohli to bat at the top of the order,” Gavaskar told India Today. “So maybe KL Rahul’s loss of form has been a blessing in disguise because this has given us an opening combination to look forward to.”
Sharma and Kohli’s rapid partnership followed opening stands of 2, 0, 7 and 21 in the first four matches where India used three different combinations also involving Shikhar Dhawan and Ishan Kishan. On Saturday, Kohli, who opened for the first time in T20Is since 2018, batted out the entire 20 overs to finish on 80* from 52 deliveries by accelerating towards the death while Sharma smashed a quickfire 64 off 34.
With the T20 World Cup scheduled for this October in India, Gavaskar said he would continue with the latest pair.
“I would persist with this opening formula. Look at the way they fed off each other,” he said. “You could see the interaction between the two of them, whenever each of them got the big shot going. When that happens, when two leaders of the team show the way, it becomes easier for the guys coming down the order. With Suryakumar Yadav in India colours and playing those cameos, it’s really good.”
Soon after India clinched the series 3-2, Kohli told the host broadcaster at the presentation that he would also open in the upcoming IPL, starting April 9, and he could also open in some additional T20Is India are likely to play between the England tour and the T20 World Cup.
“Yes, I am going to open in the IPL as well,” Kohli said. “Look, I’ve batted at different positions in the past, but I feel like we do have a very solid middle order now, and now it’s about your two best players getting the maximum number of balls in T20 cricket. So I would definitely like to partner Rohit at the top.”
Ahead of the T20I series against England, Kohli had, however, firmly backed the pair of Sharma and Rahul to start the series and had said that they would be separated only if one of them had to take a break or was injured.
“If Rohit plays, then it’s quite simple. KL and Rohit have been consistently performing at the top of the order for us and those two would start,” he had said. “In a situation where Rohit takes rest or KL has a niggle or something like that, then Shikhi [Shikhar Dhawan] obviously comes in as the third opener. But the starting composition, Rohit and Rahul will be the ones who start.”
Sharma, the vice-captain, said during the post-match press conference on Saturday that despite an instant result from the new pairing, the team may yet have to analyse and work out what is best since the T20 World Cup was still some time away.
“We’ll just have to analyse and think about what suits the team most,” Sharma said. “Today was, I guess, a tactical move because we wanted an extra bowler to play. We wanted to leave one batsman out, and unfortunately, it was KL, which was very tough.”