India should bat Kohli at No. 3 in Tests
"I could probably look to bat anywhere, but the team wanted me to be at No. 4 all the time and that's where I've spent most of my career, right from the Under-15 days. It was probably the main number for the team and that's where the management wanted me to be for a long time. With time that became my favourite number."
That was Virat Kohli in 2010, speaking to me about his preference for the No. 4 spot in all forms of the game. Two years later, he has transformed himself into an ODI run-machine and India's undisputed No. 3 in limited-overs cricket.
As India head into the post-Rahul Dravid era, with two Tests against New Zealand starting in Hyderabad on Thursday, the time has come to see what Kohli is really made of. The No. 3 position is generally reserved for the team's most dependable batsman, one around whom the innings can be built. It is a gap that Kohli should be filling.
Why? Because he is India's most-improved batsman of recent times and is no stranger to the No. 3 position in ODI cricket, where he has batted 49 times and averages 50.70. Importantly, he has been consistent in this position. Clearly, he is accustomed to the role and a success, and it is on this merit that he should be tried at one-down against New Zealand.
At 23, Kohli is still a young man in a hurry but he isn't rushing anymore. The maturity is evident in his batting, in specific the manner in which he constructs his innings. He has the appetite for big innings, as witnessed by scores of 183 and 133* in ODIs this year and first-class knocks of 169, 197 145, 173 in domestic cricket. The 169 came in 2007 when Kohli was 18 and the 197 less than a year later.
Already Kohli is statistically the 12th best one-day batsmen India have possessed, and he is sure to surpass a few luminaries that lay ahead of him on the all-time list. He averages the best for any Indian batsman ever (51.91) and has a strike rate of 86.43. In the next decade he could become the most prolific ODI batsman India have had since Sachin Tendulkar.
It would be not be a huge leap of faith to promote Kohli to one-drop in Test cricket. The position generally goes to the side's most accomplished batsman, and though Kohli is only eight Tests old he has shown that he is the real deal. In his fourth Test, the third and final of the series against West Indies at home, he scored two half-centuries. In four Tests in Australia, he overcame technical difficulties and attacks on his character to improve his game; he scored India's only Test century and more runs than any of his illustrious team-mates.
Critics will argue that the role facing the new ball in Tests, on surfaces designed to last five days and with a cordon of catchers waiting, requires a batsman with a sounder technique and temperament. Kohli's temperament is not in question after four Tests in Australia, but is technique is. His back-and-across foot movement and tendency to play the ball late make him susceptible to lbw decisions when the ball is new. Considering that New Zealand's fast men tend to pitch the ball up and try to swing it, not having the best technique and limited foot movement will count against Kohli. His ability to play spin with aggression is also an important factor in his positioning in the middle order.
But then many players have overcome technical shortcomings to become formidable Test batsmen. Even Dravid, when he started out, was not the most technically accomplished player. On the basis of Kohli's outstanding run in ODIs over the last two seasons, he appears a batsman always looking to improve and for that reason, he is the best candidate for the No. 3 spot in Tests.
More about Jamie Alter
Having reconciled himself to the fact that he would never get paid to play cricket, Jamie Alter decided on the next best thing – writing on the sport. Having ditched a stint at an insurance firm in Boston, Jamie joined ESPNcricinfo where he worked for five years, covering cricket apart from trying to improve – unsuccessfully, ultimately – his technique against the short ball in office cricket. After taking a break to author two cricket books, Jamie joined CricketNext as editor in 2011.
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