ICC World Cup 2019: Should Virat Kohli bat at No. 4?

Shashank Srivastava

Virat Kohli

In just a few months from now, the home of cricket, England, will host the most prestigious cricketing event of all - the ICC World Cup 2019. The top 10 ranked ODI cricketing nations will come together for this spectacular tournament, desperate to win the esteemed trophy.

India being a cricket fanatic nation, started their preparations quite some time back. Over the past few years, the team management has worked towards establishing a very strong and well-balanced team that not only represents the nation in the marquee event but actually has the genuine potential to win the trophy.

After plenty of efforts, the team has successfully managed to discover the right players for each position barring one - the No. 4 slot. The team management has tried every permutation and combination possible yet it continues to be the biggest headache for Team India ahead of the World Cup.

Though it seems that senior warhorse Ambati Rayudu has been chosen for the job, the move appears to be more of a compulsion than a choice. With his limited opportunities Rayudu has not done any wonders, but has done just enough to survive in the scheme of things for the World Cup.

Ravi Shastri in discussion with batting coach Sanjay Bangar and captain Virat Kohli

In a recent interview, the Indian national head coach Ravi Shastri introduced a new possibility for stabilizing India’s shaky middle order and most importantly, resolving the ongoing issue of No. 4. He stated that ‘king’ Virat Kohli could take up the responsibility, and needless to say, it sparked a huge debate amongst the cricket gurus.

Though many may agree with this viewpoint to some extent considering India’s concern over the middle order, there are several valid reasons why the run machine Kohli should absolutely not slip down the order.

One of the key reasons for India’s ODI success in recent years has been the performance of the top order. The top 3 - ‘Hit-Man’ Rohit Sharma along with ‘Gabbar’ Shikhar Dhawan and ‘King’ Virat Kohli - has more often than not given an excellent start to the team. As a result, despite the middle order not performing as desired, Team India have still managed to consistently put up a winning total on the scoreboard.

If Kohli were to be taken out of this top 3, the team management might just end up creating a new problem – the top order - while trying to resolve the ongoing problem of the middle order.

Virat Kohli celebrating yet another century

Also, we have seen on several occasions in the past that displacing a batsman from his usual position can impact his performance adversely. It is understandable to experiment at the beginning of the player's career or when he isn’t performing well in a particular slot, but certainly not when the slot perfectly suits the batsman and the team is getting optimum results.

Even the great batting legend Sachin Tendulkar could not escape from the turmoil when he was asked to move down the order at No. 4. His performance declined considerably, and eventually he had to be brought back to open the innings.

In addition, Kohli has been in sublime form in the last two last years, scoring an astonishing 1000+ runs year after year against every opponent and under diverse and challenging batting conditions. Ideally therefore, he should be given the opportunity to spend as much time as possible at the batting crease to maximize his form, rather than allowing other batsmen to consume half of the innings with very little remaining for Kohli to make a meaningful impact on the game.

A one-off shuffle based on the situation could possibly work in favor of the Indian team, the way MS Dhoni famously came up the order in the ICC World Cup 2011 final instead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh, and then successfully diffused the Sri Lankan bowling. However, moving the best batsman in the world down the order can seriously hurt the team, and may even cost them the World Cup. 

The fans can only hope that Shastri’s idea of Kohli at No. 4 only enriches a dinner table discussion, and does not become an unfortunate reality.