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India vs South Africa: Batting-order flexibility holds 2020 key

India vs South Africa: Batting-order flexibility holds 2020 key

“I think the most important thing is to find out the safest way possible to score runs in all formats. So, if you can think of that rather than go into the game thinking ‘I am going to sweep a fast bowler’ then I will look stupid, so I try to mould my game according to my strengths and that’s been my strategy and strength over the years.”

This was Virat Kohli’s response when asked what a player needs to do to achieve success across formats. The India captain is the ideal player to answer this question considering the ease with which he has managed to find a template that serves him well in Tests, ODIs and T20s. However, it’s not easy replicating his mantra, especially in the shortest format. Kohli does not rely on brute force, neither does he play those fancy paddle shots. By his own admission, he looks at the ‘safest possible way to score his runs’.

Now, try telling Rishabh Pant to play like that. In his limited international appearances so far, the 21-year-old has made a habit of attempting sweeps off fast bowlers.

If Kohli epitomises finesse, Pant is outlandish. Over the years, T20 teams have given preference to such out-of-the box innovators over solid batsmen. However, exceptionally talented players such as Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith still find ways to score runs and remain relevant in this format.

The T20 World Cup in Australia is 13 months away, and teams have begun experiments to settle on suitable combinations. India are scheduled to play 26 T20s till October 2020, after the first of the three matches against South Africa was washed out without a ball being bowled. The series now moves to Mohali on Wednesday before the final one in Bangalore on Sunday.

The selectors and the think tank will use these games to try out the candidates and also zero in on the chosen ones in time for them to be given a suitable run.

India’s top 3 in T20s mirrors their ODI setup. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, alongside the captain, select themselves. Their strike rates hover around 135 runs per 100 balls. They give the team stability, not explosion. However, if the asking rate is more than 12 runs per over, they would need a bit of firepower.

That would come from the likes of Hardik Pandya, Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and even Ravindra Jadeja. These players have the ability to clear the fence almost at will and can bludgeon a 20-ball 50. In essence, batsmen from No.4 to No.8 will form the fulcrum of India’s T20 squad, because they can take the game away from the opposition in quick time.

This surfeit of batting talent in the middle order bodes well for India, if utilised smartly. While Pandya, Pant and Jadeja are outlandish, Iyer and Pandey offer stability but can also tee off when required. It takes all styles of players to form an effective batting order.

Going forward, the team management could even be tempted to try these contenders in the Top 3. The constant chopping and changing in the batting order proved to be a bane in the run-up to the 50-over World Cup as the team failed to settle on a proven middle-order setup, but don’t expect this to end anytime soon, at least in T20s as we move closer to Australia 2020.