Kohli apt for No. 4

Virat Kohli will nicely fit into Sachin's No. 4 role.-R.V. MOORTHY

Considering all aspects, Virat Kohli is the man to step into the No. 4 slot. It is a vital position, the bridge between the top-order and the middle-order. By S. Dinakar.

It will be impossible to fill Sachin Tendulkar’s shoes. When legends and once-in-a-lifetime cricketers depart, the impact on the cricketers, who occupy their slots, and the fans are immense, psychologically.

The expectations from the new incumbent are often so high that it weighs him down. Importantly, he needs to be given time.

When a giant kisses sunset, the cricketer who comes in for him must be given time to stay and develop. Knee-jerk reactions have to be avoided.

Again, it would be impossible to arrive at conclusions — we are talking about Test cricket here — on the basis of runs scored in the sub-continental tracks or in the limited overs format. At best, they are only indicators.

Flat tracks bullies — particularly those smashing hapless attacks to distant corners in the limited overs format — are often ruthlessly exposed on the juicy tracks abroad.

Who, then, is the right man to take Tendulkar’s place at No. 4? The slot, also called two drop, is crucial from the team’s perspective.

The first three positions, the two openers and the No. 3, form the top-order; sometimes No. 3 is considered a part of the middle-order when that position, actually, is a specialist top-order job.

Let’s now look at the present scenario in the Indian Test line-up. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have runs behind them as an opening pair and it would be cruel to break the partnership at this juncture.

If any of the above openers fails to deliver repeatedly in the away Tests, Gautam Gambhir could be back in the frame.

Cheteshwar Pujara has been shaping well at No. 3. He has the technique and the temperament for the role. He constructs innings and values Test cricket.

So, it would not be advisable to tamper with the first three slots as things stand now. Of course, subsequent failures on the away soil could open up things.

Here it needs to be stressed that whoever replaces Tendulkar, would do so in South Africa, following the two-Test home series against the West Indies.

This also suggests that India’s new No. 4 has to be a reasonably experienced customer to take the red-hot pace attack of the World’s best Test side on lively tracks.

Considering all aspects, Virat Kohli is the man to step into the No.4 slot. It is a vital position, the bridge between the top-order and the middle-order.

The No. 4 offers the side stability and builds partnerships. He could be in the middle in no time if the side loses two quick wickets and has to be adept against pace, movement and bounce.

If there are partnerships for the first two wickets, then he has to consolidate, play spin and reverse swing capably. The role of the No. 4, thus, is multi-layered.

The versatile Kohli has the hunger and the passion to excel at No. 4 in Test cricket; he has already displayed an exceptional ability to adapt to different formats.

The feisty right-hander from Delhi has innings-building skills, absorbs pressure and can, both, wear down an attack or slice it open.

Crucially, Kohli’s technique is a very reasonable one considering he has already played so much ODI and Twenty20 cricket.

The 24-year-old Kohli gets solidly behind the line, can play with a straight bat and copes adequately with the short-pitched stuff from the quicks.

Kohli can cut and hook and is not daunted by reputations. His Test average is a creditable 41.96 from 18 Tests (runs 1175, hundreds four). He blends old-school doggedness with the more hectic pace of modern-day cricket.

His 116 at Adelaide — he has pre-dominantly batted No. 5 for India so far — against a probing Australian pace attack last year is of particular significance here. It showed he could take on the paceman on their turf with sound back-foot play.

And Kohli’s second innings 75 on a pacy Perth track showcased the fearless attribute of his batsmanship. He is actually the sort of batsman who likes the smell of a duel. Critically, he is willing to take on responsibility, a wonderful attribute in a youngster. Kohli, surely, is the man at No. 4.

India also needs to have a second choice for No. 4 and has to find someone to occupy the No. 5 slot, if Kohli moves up the order.

Once again, we have to take note of the fact that apart from the likely series in South Africa, India will figure in more Test matches abroad over the next 16 months with series in New Zealand, England and Australia.

Despite the hype about so many lesser cricketers, Ambati Rayudu is the first name that comes to mind. This talented right-hander is so natural in his back-foot play that it, at times, is hard to believe that he had been brought up on the Indian tracks.

Rayudu can cut, pull and hook and can punch off his back-foot. He is nicely balanced at the crease and has a sound defence. This compact 28-year-old batsman should definitely be in the team for away tours.

Ajinkya Rahane, a top-order batsman who has been groomed by the selectors for a middle-order role, has been rather unconvincing, on occasions, against lift and movement. At 25, he has time on his hands though.

Rohit Sharma is a candidate for the No. 5 slot. There have been times when he seemed to lack motivation but his shot-making skills have never been in doubt.

He has the horizontal bat shots to cope with the short-pitched stuff but a tendency to play across has, on occasions, let him down against movement. Yet, at No. 5, he could flay a tiring attack.

Yuvraj Singh can do that too. The southpaw is fit and motivated in his present avatar and could demolish bowling with his timing and range of shots.

With M. S. Dhoni coming in at No. 6, India could have a left-right pair of contrasts at the crease. Yet, would Dhoni bat No. 6 on away campaigns or walk in a slot lower?

If India fields six specialist batsmen, then Yuvraj would a feared No. 6 who could dismiss attacks ruthlessly. Interestingly, old soldier Virender Sehwag, never to be discounted, will be eyeing a similar role. Suresh Raina has been earmarked for the No.4 role in ODIs by Dhoni but could be an option for a slot lower down in Tests. Yet, has he overcome his difficulties with the short-pitched stuff? The left-hander is bound to be targeted.

And is Dinesh Karthik — he should be considered as a pure batsman — a better candidate at No. 5 or 6 with his horizontal bat shots — if he overcomes his impulsive ways.

There are also two young batsmen with precious ability. Baba Aparajith and Manpreet Juneja.

For someone just 19, Aparajith bats with poise and maturity. He is competent against both pace and spin and is efficient off his back-foot.

Juneja has been among big runs against the visiting ‘A’ sides from New Zealand and the West Indies this season. Those who have seen him bat believe this 23-year-old from Gujarat — he averages 75.26 in first class cricket — is the most technically accomplished young batsman in the country.

The coming days bristle with possibilities.