Virat Kohli’s decision to open the innings for India in the fifth T20I against England took many by surprise. KL Rahul had been struggling for form but India had many other options for the opener’s slot. Yet, the India skipper pushed himself to the top of the order.
He backed up his decision with a brilliant 80 off 52 and while speaking at the post-match presentation, he said he will give serious consideration to the idea of opening regularly in the shortest format.
“Yes, I am going to open in the IPL as well,” Kohli had said. “Look, I have batted at different positions in the past but I feel like we have a solid middle-order now and it’s about the two best players getting the maximum number of balls in T20 cricket.”
With the emergence of Suryakumar Yadav, one can also say that Kohli perhaps also needed to reassess where and how he could help the team the most, and barring the opening slot, there are few positions in the T20 game where one can take time getting the eye in before playing the big shots.
Kohli is known to take his time before he gets going later in his innings. If he is still in around the 15th over mark, his strike-rate rises quite rapidly and that is when he becomes truly dangerous.
Mike Hesson, RCB’s Director of Operations, later revealed that the decision for Kohli to open was in fact, discussed a while ago.
“Certainly, we talked about it before the auction because that came in our auction planning in terms of how we wanted to structure our lineup,” Hesson said on Bold Diaries. “So certainly no surprise there. Delighted that he got an opportunity for India to open the other day and show everybody exactly what he’s capable of. We certainly know that but just another reminder for everybody.”
Hesson added: “So yeah, really looking forward to Virat opening the batting with Devdutt. You know, left-right combination, different types of players and obviously we know Virat’s record after he gets through the powerplay, he’s phenomenal. So especially if he bats at the top, it’s a slightly different structure and as I said, that helped determine our auction planning as well.”
Devdutt Padikkal was a breakout star for RCB last season (scoring 473 runs in 15 matches) but his SR of 124.80 wasn’t on the higher side and with Kohli moving up the order it will be interesting to see whether he will be allowed to play in a similar manner or whether the team will want him to up the SR in a big way.
Kohli has great numbers at the top of the order. His average and his strike-rate are both very good and it might just prove to be the right decision if RCB can find the right players for the middle order.
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Kohli's numbers by batting position
Kohli opened the innings for RCB throughout IPL 2016 and he had his best season. He broke many records through the season as he scored four centuries in a single edition to end the tournament as the league’s highest run-scorer in a single season with 973 runs.
The RCB skipper, given how good he is in ODIs, has the ability to bat through the innings without playing as an anchor conventionally does. While most anchors look to rotate the strike and give the big-hitters as much strike as possible, Kohli’s presence in the middle tends to get the best out of the other batsmen too.
Kohli in the IPL (by year)
RCB’s big problem last season was their over-reliance on AB de Villiers down the order. The South African did win them a few games on his own but he lacked support. Kohli will hope that Glenn Maxwell can step in and fill the void for his team.
But the other issue that RCB faced last season was that by the time ABD would come in to bat, the number of overs remaining would be too few. He would have an over perhaps to get his eye in before having to go for the big shots.
If Kohli believes that the best batsmen in the team should face the most number of deliveries, then surely ABD will be pushed up the order too. But that could leave the team feeling very top-heavy given how inconsistent Maxwell can be.
But if anything, RCB will want to give ABD enough time to work his magic – which as the table shows he can at almost every batting position.
AB de Villiers by batting position
For now, Kohli has bought into the idea that if he stays there long enough, he can have a huge impact on the game. But while that works for the Indian national team, RCB will need other players to step up as well.
At the same time, RCB will also hope that Kohli can play more ‘freely’ at the top of the order and take advantage of the powerplay overs. In essence, the RCB skipper is taking on quite the responsibility on his shoulders.
RCB and Kohli can make this work but there are quite a few variables that make things difficult to predict and that in turn means that the start of IP 2021 is going to be a very interesting one for the team.