Though the top three batsmen in India’s line-up – Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat – are undeniably terrific batsmen, together they don’t quite fit into the larger scheme of things.
On Wednesday, India thrashed Hong Kong by 40 runs in the fourth match of the Asia Cup 2022 to qualify for the Super Four round. In their first match of the tournament, they had edged arch-rivals Pakistan by five wickets.
India are easily the most balanced and potent team in the championship, with a host of supremely experienced and talented cricketers in their ranks. But there is one nagging problem which has been their bane for a long time in the T20I format.
Though the top three batsmen in India’s line-up – Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat – are undeniably terrific batsmen, together they don’t quite fit into the larger scheme of things. This was evident once against Hong Kong.
KL Rahul, who is making a comeback to the T20I team after his injury, looked completely out of sorts and played a dour and dull innings. The right-hander not only struggled to tonk big shots but couldn’t even pinch singles and doubles regularly. Barring the two sixes he smote, his famed timing was conspicuous by its absence.
Even against the middling Hong Kong attack, he was ill at ease. After consuming 39 balls, he made only 36 runs. A strike rate of 92 after playing 39 deliveries is atrocious in the T20 format.
India were only 94 when he got out in the 13th over. Had it not been for Suryakumar Yadav’s tubthumping half-century, India might have had to strain themselves to win against a minnow. But this is not to say that Rahul is the sole culprit here.
Though Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 59 off 44 deliveries, his innings was far from being fluent. Kohli has been going through a rough patch for more than a year and is trying to regain his form. As a result, his strike rate suffers as he looks to build his innings instead of taking the attack to the bowlers.
Captain Rohit, too, isn’t in his best form in the T20I format, but his intent is ostensible.
In the last couple of years, India’s top three batsmen have mostly failed to make hay in the powerplay and fully optimise the first six overs. All the three batsmen aren’t the sort who throw caution to the wind from the word go and run amok.
India need at least one puissant power-hitter in the top three who has the ammunition to take on the bowlers. Scoring merely 65-70 runs in the first 10 overs won’t be enough for India, especially when playing a big tournament like the T20 World Cup.
It isn’t as if India don’t have good options. Players such as Hardik Pandya and Suryakumar Yadav are in blazing form. Rishabh Pant has also proven his mettle as an arresting stroke-maker. All of them can go on the rampage and annihilate bowlers. In the match against Pakistan, India had to leave Pant out of the playing XI to accommodate Dinesh Karthik and KL Rahul.
With such a power-packed middle-order, where India are spoilt for choices, there is a crying need to induct a dashing batter in the top three. In 2022, India tried Ruturaj Gaikwad as an opener in a few matches, but he didn’t pass muster. Ishan Kishan, on the other hand, did reasonably well. The team management might throw in Pant as an opener as an experiment before the marquee championship.
There is still some time to go for the T20 World Cup. After the Asia Cup, India will play six T20Is against Australia and New Zealand. They have to address and fix the top-order issue effectively to enhance their chances of winning the ICC tournament after a long hiatus.