India captain Virat Kohli on Sunday (January 19) said the team will continue with KL Rahul as the wicketkeeper-batsman “for a while” as he lends massive balance to the side just like his illustrious namesake Rahul Dravid did during 2003 World Cup.
However, it comes at a time when the squad’s experience opener Shikhar Dhawan injured his left shoulder and did not come out to bat in the Indian innings during the third and final ODI against Australia in Bengaluru.
Dhawan was taken off the field in the fifth over of the game at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. He had dived to save an Aaron Finch shot in the cover region, hurting his shoulder. He then walked out and was replaced by leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal on the field.
Rahul has been in sublime touch with the bat and in the last two ODIs against Australia, also did a decent job behind the stumps in 2-1 series win. He kept the wickets even though Rishabh Pant had regained full fitness after getting concussed by Pat Cummins’ bouncer in the first ODI.
“I think lack of clarity in terms of positions has really hurt us in the past. Now that we understand that this feels right, we will go ahead with that for a while and figure out if this is the right thing to do or not. You cannot chip and change immediately and create confusion among the group,” Kohli said at a media conference with reference to No 4 conundrum during ODI World Cup.
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“We are playing very well, unchanged team and did the job two with back to back wins. Don’t see any reason why we should change this balance. It has done well for the team,” making it clear that Rishabh Pant might have to wait a bit longer for his comeback in the playing XI.
“It (Rahul’s keeping) definitely allows us to play an extra batsman which strengthens our batting massively. That is a very important factor as far as the team balance is concerned,” he said.
“If you look at the 2003 World Cup when Rahul bhai started keeping, the balance became different because you could play an extra batter and guys at the top could really play positive cricket,” Kohli said referring to India’s runners-up showing in 2003.
Rahul batted at No 3 in the series opener, at No 5 in Rajkot before opening in the decider as Shikhar Dhawan was injured.
“Look, he is very open to playing anywhere because he is a proper batsman and can do you good in any format and any position in the game. He won’t go slam-bang from ball one but he can do what he did in Rajkot playing good cricketing shots. So I think a solid game plan and understanding of his game is helping him,” Kohli explained.
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Kohli is happy that Rahul has worked on his game and is now a match-winner.
“He has reflected on what he needs to do in the last five-six months and he has come a long way. Good signs for us. Gives a boost to the team because he keeps as well,” said the skipper.
So how does recently discovered Rahul the wicketkeeper-batsman leave other options in a World Cup year?
“Look we have what we have in the team. It is just that Rahul really brings in good balance, if he can keep and bat that well in that position. He has come into the slot and he has done well so we will have to persist with that a little bit and see where that takes us and not necessarily be confused about the other options we have,” said Kohli as the question was an indirect reference to the Rishabh Pant vs Mahendra Singh Dhoni debate.
Though Kohli is in favour of Rahul keeping for longer than expected, experts bet to differ with the skipper’s opinion.
Former India opener Aakash Chopra feels that Rahul is a better wicket-keeper than what Dravid was in his playing days, he feels the right-hander should not be given the dual responsibility.
“If somebody who is that good (with the bat) and if he can do another job, it doesn’t mean that he should keep as well. Rahul is too precious a talent for me to slot in as a keeper-batsman. That way, instead of managing his workload, you are increasing his workload,” he said.
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Former India wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia is also of the view that Rahul can’t be the number one choice behind the stumps, at least in ODIs.
“He can be a good second wicket-keeper. He cannot be a permanent wicket-keeper in ODIs. T20s it is still okay but not in ODIs. There should be a regular keeper but he can be a second option,” Mongia said.
Meanwhile, Dhawan’s continuous tryst with injuries has put his presence in upcoming New Zealand in doubt.
The team is set to leave for New Zealand on Monday morning and it is highly unlikely that Dhawan will travel with the team right away.
“Shikhar’s scans are here. The medical team is looking at the scans. He will be assessed and his condition will be taken care of and then we will take a call as and when we go,” BCCI media manager stated prior to the start of skipper Virat Kohli’s press conference.
(With inputs from agencies)