Former Sri Lankan cricketer and Mumbai Indians head coach Mahela Jayawardene said that India should have stuck to Rohit Sharma as an opener instead of tinkering with the top three batters during the defeat against New Zealand in the T20 World Cup.

India sent out young Ishan Kishan to open the innings with KL Rahul which meant Sharma had to come in at No 3. The move backfired as the Indian innings never got going and could only manage 110 in their 20 overs.

The former Sri Lanka captain felt it was an unnecessary change.

“You can be flexible. But not with your top-three batters,” Jayawardene said on ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time Out.

“Most teams if you take, you don’t have too much flexibility in that top three. They are settled. They are the ones who are going to give you that initial tempo, who are going to go about things.

“And then you have that guy at No. 3 who is going to glue things together and bat in both halves of the innings and the rest of the guys are the ones who will probably get floated in and around.”

Jayawardene, who has extensively worked with Sharma in MI, felt India erred in dropping the right-hander from the opening slot.

“That’s the role he plays in T20 cricket and Kohli is either an opener or No. 3. I think KL Rahul would have been able to play that No. 4 role because he has that ability to change and adapt.

“In an ideal scenario, if India had a good start and had a settled thing, even Rishabh Pant could have batted No. 4 - given they (New Zealand) had a left-arm spinner (Mitchell Santner) and a leg-spinner (Ish Sodhi). He would have got more licence to then play knowing that he had two-three batters behind him.

“So, rather than making all those changes they should have done just that subtle change - one in, one out - and then maybe one batter changing positions, rather than three batters changing their slots, would have made a bit more sense.

“If you batted them in those correct positions, they are familiar with those roles and they would have executed.”

Jayawardene, who has been a vital cog in MI’s thinktank since 2017, said batting has always been India’s strength but once that department faltered, it became a Herculean task for the bowlers.

“...the skills in that dressing room are immense and I feel that role clarity and how you want to construct is something which is lacking. Form as well coming into this tournament and how they are going to set themselves up because India, as a team, hasn’t played T20 cricket for a little while and that showed,” he said.

“They had a couple of warm-up games, they looked good but kept changing personnel at the top of the order and when they came into the actual tournament it was a bit tough. India is always going to dominate with the bat in the competition but as soon as the batting lets them down...

“When you compare with all other bowling attacks you feel that India is not up to scratch. They have some attacking bowlers but it’s their batting that they have depended on dominating and when that is not happening that’s a concern,” he said.

Asked what he meant by clarity, Jayawardene explained: “For me, the clarity is who are your best opening options, how you are going to get that explosive start and who is going to bat through and then you can have a floater in that little period. How do you use that floater and who is going to keep the tempo up.”

Jayawardene credited MI and New Zealand’s bowling coach Shane Bond for perfectly planning and executing India’s downfall in the last match

“If you see the last game against New Zealand, having worked with Shane for quite some time you see the straight matchups. How they used it and the field settings and options they threw and India was rattled with that.

“New Zealand made their bowling changes to adapt to those matchups and whenever those matchups were correct they used that. India had to counter that but obviously, they hadn’t thought through that process. Those are areas where you need to be one step ahead of the opponent,” he observed.

The opening two losses against Pakistan and New Zealand have diminished India’s hopes of making it to the semi-finals but Jayawardene still hasn’t ruled Kohli’s men out.

“They still have an opportunity. Anything can happen. And if they sneak through to those semifinal spots they are a force to reckon with.”

India will take on Afghanistan in a must-win match in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

(With PTI inputs)