Captain Kohli, IPL is Not The Place to Look for Your ODI Number 4

The IPL is no place to look for India’s number four batsman for the upcoming ICC World Cup.

Updated12 Apr 2019, 11:09 AM IST
5 min read

It has been eight years since India last won a Cricket World Cup title. We just celebrated the anniversary on 2 April.

One of the redeeming features of that triumph was the settled look the squad had, even though it lacked a top quality bowling line-up. It was an efficient squad with a number of experienced players coming together to pay their third straight World Cup.

The squad had a sense of purpose and direction because they had a no-frills captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni who preferred stability in selection over adventurism. So at least three months before the World Cup, the major portion of the final squad was ready.

Change a Constant With Kohli

Eight years on, the story is exactly the opposite for India leading up to this year’s World Cup, and it is very much a reflection of the personality of the captain who leads the country now. Virat Kohli likes the pot stirred at all times and does not want anyone to know what is up his sleeve.

It shows in the way the Test XI keeps changing every time Kohli is leading them out at any venue in any part of the world. Similarly just about three weeks before the deadline to announce the final squad for the World Cup, India is still confused about at least two or three slots. More importantly the confusion is about the one slot that has plagued the minds of millions of fans in India, the dreaded number four slot.

Incidentally when India won the World Cup in 2011, the man holding the number four slot was none other than Kohli himself!

Now obviously with the seniors moving out, Kohli has moved up a notch and holds the innings together at the pivotal number three slot. But more importantly with Kohli being the centre of all attention, he has ensured that the number four slot has become some kind of a revolving door situation.

World Cup Slot on IPL Form?

We have tried a number of contenders in the last four years and are in fact fast losing count of the number of people who have been in that position. But now with the mega event getting closer every day, the madness is getting to everyone.

Throughout the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), it has become a running joke about how every day a new contender is emerging for the slot. Before the IPL started it was assumed that any one of the following: Vijay Shankar, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant will be the ones in the running.

But now everytime a young or old Indian cricketer strikes some form, the counter goes up as if to suggest that the contender is now X or Y. The latest one to be added to the list included Sanju Samson. His hundred for Rajasthan Royals forced the hero of the 2011 World Cup final, Gautam Gambhir, to nominate Samson as the candidate for the role.

Then there were others like Sourav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting pushing for their franchise hero Rishabh Pant as the candidate for the slot. In Ganguly’s defence before the IPL started he did plump for Cheteshwar Pujara, but changed track once the tournament got underway for obvious reasons (no conflict obviously).

Rajasthan Royals captain Ajinkya Rahane was bandied about as a possible contender by former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar. But since the IPL started he has receded into the background.

Some have even mentioned India’s U19 World Cup star Shubhman Gill as a possible late entrant in the race. Thankfully, few others like Prithvi Shaw have been left alone despite his consistent performances thus far for Delhi Capitals.

What everyone conveniently forgets is that the IPL is a format different to the World Cup. In the World Cup, the number four batsman could end up building the innings from a precarious situation to even building on the solid foundation that the openers may lay.

The IPL as a format does not lend itself to being so constructive in nature. There is hardly ever any time for a batsman to construct an innings and it is almost always slam bang. So it is inherently flawed to expect that the Indian think-tank could get their number four slot from the IPL.

The Twenty20 format is so different to the ODI format that it is almost impossible nowadays to have the same squad in both. So we need to stop looking for the number four slot in the ongoing IPL. This contender should have been identified months ago by sticking to a couple of candidates. Instead this attempt to keep everyone guessing has ended up messing the minds of all the contenders.

The Indian cricket team’s last international commitment before the World Cup was the ODI series against Australia in March.
The Indian cricket team’s last international commitment before the World Cup was the ODI series against Australia in March.
(Photo: AP)

WC Preparations Not Ideal

The person behind creating this mess, Kohli, is finding no solace in the IPL himself. He continues to be winless this season and is a reflection of why India may need a new captain for the Twenty20 format at next year’s World Cup.

Before that though we need to get through this year’s IPL, and then onto the World Cup. India would have spent close to two and a half months before playing a match in the one-day format when the showpiece tournament gets underway. That isn’t exactly the ideal way to prepare.

Contrast that with the scheduling for some of the other sides. Pakistan will be playing close to 10 one-dayers (including five ODIs against host) in England before they play their first game in the World Cup. Of all the sides, Pakistan could probably have the biggest advantage leading into the World Cup.

Bangladesh and West Indies will square off in a tri-series alongside host Ireland in May. Later, Afghanistan will also play Scotland and Ireland in an ODI series. Sri Lanka too will head to Scotland before the World Cup for an ODI series. England and Ireland will also be playing a short series.

Australia is just coming off eight match ODI winning streak, whereas New Zealand and South Africa will come in cold like India.

Mentally, once the World Cup final XV is announced the chosen ones’ minds will shift to the tournament. But we would still be left with close to three weeks of IPL. It is going to be a hard task to deal with conflicted minds, hence a little more thought should have been put into the scheduling and perhaps even managing the players.

Instead the chosen XV will move straight from the slam bang of IPL to England with no camp or coming together as a group.

Not ideal at all, but don’t tell anybody that we didn’t warn you.

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Published: 03 Apr 2019, 07:12 AM IST

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