India captain Virat Kohli praised Ambati Rayudu for his consistent show and hinted that the team management are looking at the Hyderabadi to solve their middle-order problems ahead of the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference on Saturday, Kohli said that India’s main challenge leading up to the World Cup next year was finding a solid No.4 and with Rayudu’s show in the Asia Cup, the team management and he is confident that he is the man for the spot.
“The only position we were trying to figure out was number four for a long time. We tried many players who unfortunately could not capitalise or cement their places in a way we wanted.
“With Rayudu coming in and playing well in the Asia Cup, it’s about giving him enough game time till the World Cup so that the particular slot will be sorted for us,” Kohli said ahead of the first one-dayer against the West Indies.
“The team felt there — and I also watched him — that he (Rayudu) is designed to play that middle order batsman’s role. We feel that our middle-order is more or less balanced now,” Kohli added.
Rayudu was selected in the India ODI squad for the England tour after his strong performance in the Indian Premier League, where he slammed 602 runs at an average of 43.00 and a strike-rate of 149.75 for the Chennai Super Kings. However, his luck ran out as he failed the yo-yo test and was dropped from the series.
But he made a successful return to the Asia Cup in UAE last month and played an instrumental role in India’s victorious campaign under stand-in captain Rohit Sharma. And, it looks like regular captain also reciprocates Rohit’s judgment and Rayudu is set to be India’s missing cog in the wheel in the 50-overs format.
Batting at No. 3 in Kohli’s absence, Rayudu amassed 175 runs, averaging 43.75 from six innings in the Asia Cup, virtually sealing his place for the experimental No. 4 slot.
“We believe he is the right person to capitalise on that spot. He is experienced and has won many games for his state and also in the IPL. He has a great ODI record already for India. I think the batting order is sorted,” Kohli said.
India will play 18 games before the first game against South Africa on June 5 in the World Cup next year, with the first of them being the first ODI of the five-match series against West Indies at the Assam Cricket Association Barsapara Stadium on Sunday.
“Now these 18 games would be to find the perfect combination that we want to take into the World Cup,” Kohli said.
“Barring injuries or niggles, we want one combination to play through and through. Apart from bowlers resting here and there in the ODIs, we only changed the No. 4 slot because we wanted someone to cement the place,” Kohli reasoned.
There has been criticism about veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s waning batting ability. But, when asked if he was open to adjusting No. 5, 6, 7 slots, Kohli said: “Here, more often than not people want to create controversies out of nothing.
“You look at things the way you want to. You see anyone stepping out at number three according to the situation for a side in England.”
The captain said in recent past the bulk of the scoring has been done by the top three batsmen and so the lower-order got little chance to bat.
“Batting order is always ready, especially after four. The guys below four are always flexible in terms of the situation. You want the best thing for the team. Being flexible is very important,” Kohli said.
He said if the openers batted till 40 overs, the common sense was to send a hard hitter instead of him going to bat.
“There’s no rocket science to it. In T20 cricket, you do that all the time. You are flexible in what you want to do as a batting order.
“Yes, you would want a consistent batting line-up at those positions invariably but if there’s a situation where you’re only two down after 40 overs then someone who can capitalise in the death overs better can step in. As a team we understand that,” Kohli explained.
Kohli also spoke about young left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who has been named as the 12th man for Sunday’s match, and said it’s good to see someone coming up the ranks after a long time since the retirement of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra.
“We don’t want to leave any bases uncovered. We thought bringing a left-arm pacer into the mix will give us enough variety. He has the ability to swing both ways and get good bounce as well. He also bowls at a decent pace,” he said.
Kohli said his frontline pace duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will feed off on the variety provided by Khaleel.
“It’s always an added luxury to have him (Ahmed) in the team. Definitely he makes the job easier for Bhuvi and Bumrah,” Kohli said.