Dismissing suggestions that Virat Kohli should open the batting in the T20 World Cup, former India opener Gautam Gambhir has firmly backed KL Rahul to do the job, and said the out-of-form batter has “probably got more ability”.
Kohli’s return to form in the Asia Cup, especially as an opener when he ended his long wait for a century with a 61-ball 122 against Afghanistan, fuelled debate whether he should be preferred over Rahul at the top in the next month’s showpiece in Australia.
“You know what happens in India? The moment someone starts doing very well, for example, when Virat Kohli scored a hundred in the last game, we all start forgetting what Rahul and Rohit have done over a long period of time,” Gambhir said on Star Sports during a virtual press conference ahead of India’s three-match T20I series against Australia.
“When you talk about Kohli opening the batting, imagine what happens to KL Rahul… Imagine the amount of insecurity he (Rahul) must be feeling. Imagine if he gets a low score in the first game, there will be another debate on whether Kohli should open in the next game.” Returning from a long injury layoff post the IPL, Rahul is yet to hit the straps and has scored one half-century from seven innings. In the Asia Cup, he averaged 26.40, with 132 runs from five innings.
But Gambhir, who mentored the Rahul-led Lucknow Super Giants in the IPL earlier this year, said the batter should be allowed to play freely. Under Rahul, LSG bowed out in the Eliminator, going down to Royal Challengers Bangalore by 14 runs.
“You don’t want your top class players in that position, especially KL Rahul who has probably got more ability than Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli.” “Imagine KL Rahul going into the World Cup thinking, ‘what if I don’t score runs against Pakistan? What if I get replaced by Virat Kohli?’ You don’t want that. We should start thinking about how India can flourish, rather than certain individuals,” Gambhir said.
With Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant both in the Australia-bound squad, there’s also no clarity on the designated wicketkeeper’s role.
Karthik was preferred ahead of Pant in their Asia Cup opener against Pakistan, but the left-hander returned in the Super 4 matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, while both featured against Afghanistan when skipper Rohit Sharma sat out.
In fact, the legendary Sunil Gavaskar has also spoken about playing both the keeper-batters, but Gambhir disagreed.
“You can’t do that. If you do that, you will miss out on a sixth bowler and you would not go into the World Cup with five bowlers. You need to have a backup.
“Unless you drop someone like a Suryakumar Yadav, or KL Rahul has a bad tournament, and you can start with Rishabh Pant opening the batting. Otherwise, I don’t see both of these players in the middle-order,” he said.
Gambhir further said Karthik, who plays the role of a finisher, has “shown no interest” in batting at higher positions.
“I have said it in the past as well, you don’t pick a T20 player only to play 10-12 balls. There is no guarantee that he is going to win you games. And Dinesh Karthik, unfortunately, has shown no interest in batting in the top-5.
“Your wicketkeeper has to be able to bat in the top-5 and Rishabh Pant has that quality to bat at any number for that matter,” he added.
“I will definitely have Rishabh Pant in my batting order. I don’t believe in the notion that you need a left-hander in the middle-order. That’s not the criteria, especially in a side like India.
“The criteria should be — do you have the ability to win a game?. Rishabh Pant has that. So yeah, Pant to start with at No. 5, Hardik Pandya at 6, Axar at 7 and see if you want Ashwin at 8, followed by three seamers,” he concluded.