India captain KL Rahul said he is going to open the batting in the three-match One-Day International series against South Africa, which begins at the Boland Park in Paarl on Wednesday, but was more open about the long term plans.

Speaking in a virtual press conference on Tuesday ahead of the first ODI, Rahul confirmed he will bat at the top of the order in the series in the full-time captain’s absence.

“Yes, I have played at No 4 and 5 in recent times but with Rohit Sharma not there, I will be at the top of the order for this series,” said Rahul.

However, while reflecting on the team’s long term plans for the batting order, Rahul said he is prepared to be flexible and expects the same from his teammates.

“In terms of my batting position, we will have to be flexible,” said the 29-year-old.

“We don’t want to be predictable as a team. I may have to open at times and bat in the middle order at times. And I’m okay with that. Everyone has clear roles but they know they need to be flexible for the team.”

Virat Kohli was captain across formats till a few months ago but with his decision to step down as Test skipper last week, India are entering a new era. Hailing his former skipper for his contributions as a leader, Rahul said he has learnt a lot from Kohli.

“Team India has done some phenomenal things under Virat... he has set the standards for the team and going forward, we’ll look to build on that. We have to stay as disciplined and determined,” said Rahul.

“Virat has this amazing ability to get the best out of every player. That’s something I’ve learnt from him and hopefully I can do the same as captain.”

Rahul also shared his views on the importance of a sixth bowling option in white-ball cricket. The skipper said India will hand Venkatesh Iyer the responsibility of playing that role in the ODIs against South Africa.

“A sixth bowling option is definitely very important,” said Rahul.

“We have Venkatesh Iyer in the squad and we want to give him chances. He has done well for us in the past. Going forward, a sixth bowling option is the most important thing in white-ball cricket. Every team is focussing on it and we are no different.

“He is an exciting talent. Fast bowling all-rounders are always important. It’s a great opportunity for him. He has looked really good in the nets so far.”

Rahul said hasn’t given a serious thought to the idea of being India’s full-time Test captain but would be a dream come true if that happens too.
“To lead the country is a dream come true for any player and something special that he will cherish for a long time. I am no different,” Rahul, who led India in the second Test recently in Johannesburg, said. “It will be exciting but I am not really looking for anything at this time but if it happens to come, I will try my best to carry Team India and Indian cricket forward to the best of my abilities.”

Shikhar Dhawan currently plays only ODIs but Rahul wants the senior pro to remain in a good head space and play like only he can, by dominating the bowlers.

“He is a senior and experienced player and understands what is expected out of him. He is in a great space and has come out here and having fun, enjoying his cricket.

“...and I mean yeah as a captain, it will be about trying to keep him in that space and give him that confidence to go out there and do what he has been doing and just to enjoy his cricket and giving Team India the starts that he has done,” said Rahul.

“I have personally been someone, who has enjoyed seeing Shikhar play in ODIs and how he takes down bowlers. and I just want him to continue doing what he has been doing.”

India have practised for two days and it seems that the track at the Boland Park will assist spinners more than the ones they they got during the Test series at the Centurion, Wanderers and Newlands.

“We have quality spinners and Ashwin is coming back into the ODI team, and we all know what quality he brings in,” he said. “Chahal has been doing it for years now and been a great performer for us for years now and it’s been great and hopefully we can exploit that in the first two games, since the pitch looks like it will offer bit of spin so they both become very important.”

With PTI inputs