Ravi Shastri Is Considering Batting Of Virat Kohli In 4th Place At The World Cup > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Ravi Shastri mulls batting Virat Kohli at No. 4 in World Cup

Ravi Shastri has hinted at the possibility of separating the Indian top-three with Virat Kohli moving down to No. 4 during the World Cup

Since losing to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final at The Oval, India have won ODI series in West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Along the way, they have beaten Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies at home as well, whilst also winning the 2018 Asia Cup in UAE.

That is a sum total of 10 ODI series' wins in what has been a nearly two-year long preparatory road to the 2019 World Cup. In this interim, they have suffered only one loss - in England.

In this second part of an exclusive interview with Cricbuzz, India coach Ravi Shastri talks about the salient features of his team's ODI plans, including an in-form top-order, solving the number four and middle order problem, MS Dhoni, wrist spin in ODI cricket and a blueprint for the upcoming World Cup in England.

Team India has been preparing for the World Cup ever since the 2017 Champions Trophy ended. You have won everywhere in the past two years, except England, and culminating an overseas cycle with an emphatic 4-1 series' win in New Zealand. How do you look back at this achievement?

That's a tribute to the boys and a tribute to the way we played. What we always believed in - we have the experience, we have the flair and we have the flexibility to go and play anywhere in the world, and win. And if you look at these last two years, it's a tribute to the boys' belief.

Largely, it is down to the bowling attack, even in ODI cricket. We insisted on certain things that were a must, like the Yo-Yo test. And then, the selectors were on the same page as the team management, especially in preparing for the World Cup. I think you have to credit the selectors for this. If they are not on the same page as the team management, then one is looking east and the other is looking west.

Biggest example of this is when they got me the two wrist spinners - it is what we wanted in ODI cricket, and then the whole bowling unit fit into what the team management wanted, and it was brilliant.

If you see what Kane Williamson has said (in post ODI series' conference in Wellington on Sunday), as a bowling unit, India have been outstanding. That's the best headline for me - it is what I like to hear. Not 'he is an outstanding bowler'. No, I want to hear 'as a bowling unit'. And he is probably one of the top three batsmen in the world, and for him to say that, I will take that. Like I said about Test cricket, we have always had individual brilliance. But even in ODI cricket now, we have a sustained team effort in bowling.

It is a bit surprising that you talked about bowling because India's traditional strength in limited-overs' cricket is batting?

Yes, because batting has been constant. You have a top-order of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli that has been very consistent. Together they have 11 centuries in ODI cricket in 2018 alone. How many do other ODI top-orders have?

(There were 15 three-figure scores by Indian batsmen in ODIs in 2018. England with 13 ODI hundreds were second while no other team has 10-plus)

Let me talk a little about Test cricket here, in terms of batting. We have travelled to South Africa, England and Australia, and played in some tough conditions, especially on those first two tours. Even then, Indian batsmen have scored 11 Test centuries in 13 overseas Tests. How many do other teams have in last one year? No team even comes close. This is credit to Sanjay Bangar and how closely he has worked with our batsmen, not just in Tests but across all formats.

(Apart from India, no other team had 10-plus Test hundreds in 2018, home or away. England were second with nine Test hundreds in 2018, home and away. India had nine hundreds in eight overseas Tests alone, along with five at home against Afghanistan and Windies.)

In both Tests and ODIs, our batsmen have put the word 'overseas' in the bin. The people who use this word - overseas - regularly, should look into the mirror and check their own stats as individuals and the teams they represented.

And we have developed a new strength in ODI cricket as well. We have worked on our fitness levels, and it has been a huge factor in improving fitness standards. The Yo-Yo test isn't just for keeping fast bowlers fit, but also a criterion for fielding. Once you pass that, R Sridhar works with you on different fielding drills.

And again, it is showing across formats. In Australia, Indian fielding was a difference in the Test series. In New Zealand, Indian fielding was a difference in the ODI series.

I will come back to the top-order. But first let us talk about the middle order. Has Ambati Rayudu eased your worries about number four?

To a degree, yes. In the previous match (fourth ODI at Hamilton), he batted like a millionaire (throwing away his wicket as India were bowled out for 92). He went back to the drawing board after that, and dug deep on Sunday in Wellington. He played the situation.

And the one quality Rayudu has, he can be very unorthodox. With the way he bats, he can be an x-factor for us. He will play shots that are unconventional at times, but they can be very effective. The more he plays like this (like at Wellington), the more he will realise he can do that to the opposition.

Is that the plan? Rayudu in the middle, and then you have Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya finishing things up with MS Dhoni at number five?

Absolutely, because they all bat with an aggressive intent. And so does Vijay Shankar - don't mistake him with the bat. You saw his defensive game on Sunday (in Wellington). If he had been there for the last 8-10 overs, he would have spanked the bowling.

This aggressive intent adds flair to the Indian side. The best ODI sides in the world have proper batsmen at numbers 5, 6, 7, 8. Look at the Indian team in 1983, or even in 1985. Then, look at the 2011 Indian team. You had Suresh Raina coming in at number seven, and he won you games (against Australia in the quarter-final and Pakistan in the semi-final). With Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Raina at numbers 5, 6, 7, no side could relax. So when you have Hardik Pandya coming in at number 7 or even at 8, the opposition cannot relax.

Okay, let us come back on that Indian top-order a bit more. Arguably, it is the finest top-order in ODI cricket at the moment. Talk about how consistent and reliable Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been.

The top-order is a big factor for India in ODIs. Dhawan and Rohit are one of the best ODI opening pairs at the moment. Why? Because, again, they have put the word 'overseas' in the bin. It is the best example. They score runs irrespective of opposition and conditions. Where have they not score runs, tell me?

I think the left-right combination really helps them. Look at the speed with which Dhawan has got 5000 ODI runs. Look at Rohit's record, three ODI double hundreds, did we even think that was possible? When they finish, I think they will be comparable to Sachin Tendulkar-Sourav Ganguly - India's best opening pair in ODIs, or even Matthew Hayden-Adam Gilchrist (Australia) and Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes (West Indies). They are big game players. If you have a good number four and five, you back them up.

Hasn't that been India's problem lately? The openers are good, and Virat Kohli is incomparable in ODI cricket. Then, you have Dhoni at number five. Somewhere in between the Indian batting gets stuck. Is there a way to solve this?

The good thing about this Indian top-three is we can separate them, if conditions and situations demand. Someone like Virat Kohli can go to number four, and we can put a good number three to bring more balance to the batting line-up. That's flexibility for you, and for big tournaments like the World Cup, you have to be flexible to see what's the best balance for the side. So we will decide that (accordingly in England).

Do you mean protecting Kohli in England, especially in the early part of the tournament?

Yes, maybe Rayudu, or someone else, could bat at number three, and Kohli comes in at number four. We wouldn't want to disturb the opening combination. Separating the top-three could make the batting stronger.

But we will assess that on seeing conditions there in England. You don't want to be 18-3 or 16-4 in a big tournament. I don't care about bilateral ODIs, but why should I lose my best batsman early in a World Cup match (if the conditions are bowler friendly)?

How about Dhoni? Kohli has said he would like to see him bat at number five. But he can be pretty flexible too.

Of course! He is still a great batsman, and is finishing matches for us. You saw in Adelaide, and he has been in terrific form this year. He may not be Dhoni of 2008 or 2011. But experience is not bought or sold in the market.

And why just batting, you saw the run-out of James Neesham on Sunday. That was Dhoni at his very best, like a con artist. He was not even looking at the ball, and the run-out was done in a flash, and it changed the course of that game. He is superb with the gloves, and from behind the stumps he really guides the wrist spinners because he understands all the fielding angles from inside the circle much better than the others.

But Dhoni has come under sharp criticism, even from ex-Indian players, precisely because he is not the same batsman as he was in 2008 or 2011. There was a lot of criticism about his knock in Sydney, which split opinion everywhere.

Nobody is good enough to criticise MS Dhoni. If you talk about him, do you even know anything about cricket?

Dhoni is like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. These guys come once in 30-40 years. He is an ornament to the game. He has been the captain of a number one Test team, and has two World Cups to his name. In fact, tell me which trophy has he not won? Name it. There is no space in his trophy cabinet.

I think people should learn a thing or two about cricket before they start talking about Dhoni. You don't get a guy (of his experience and ability) overnight.

Talking about the bowling, the two wrist spinners - Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav - have had a massive impact on India's ODI fortunes. You mentioned selectors being on the same page back in 2017. How easy was this decision to transition to wrist spin?

After the Champions Trophy, we realised we needed wickets in the middle overs. And the selectors bought into our vision immediately after the Champions Trophy. That was what we wanted to do as a team management group - no compromise (in terms of dropping R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja).

And the biggest thing is Kuldeep and Chahal have gelled together as a pair. They can go for runs, and they will at certain times, but they give us wickets in the middle overs. Just look back at the Wellington ODI - Chahal played as the lone spinner and still he gave us three wickets. In the last two years, these two have bowled magnificently.

And like I said before, Kane Williamson has praised the whole Indian bowling unit. He didn't talk about one match, but the whole series. Make no mistake they are one of the most dangerous batting sides in the world, so you can see what the Indian bowling is capable of, and what they have done in the last two years.

One of the key concerns for Indian pacers is workload management and maintaining their rhythm. Someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar struggled with it, and now is slowly regaining rhythm. Mohammed Shami is in fine rhythm, too. Is there a plan to prevent them - Bhuvneshwar, Shami and Jasprit Bumrah - from getting burnt out in the 2019 IPL?

They have been in excellent rhythm so far. During the IPL, we will try and speak to the franchises and their captains. We want to make sure that they play only an optimal number of matches without affecting their fitness or form for the World Cup. We will seek proper rest for them, so they are in absolute readiness for the World Cup.

Even after IPL we have 10 days, so we will take care of certain aspects and work from there. But during the IPL it is extremely important that they work on their physical fitness and on their skills. We will be talking to all our players and franchises about their workloads. Even though we cannot interfere too much, we definitely will be talking to players to maintain their optimal performance state.

*In part one of this interview, the impact of India's pace attack, especially Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, has been covered in detail.

I would like to talk about two players here, because earlier you mentioned x-factor. First is Hardik Pandya, who brings a vital balance to the Indian ODI team. He has missed out on a lot of cricket recently, first due to injury and then due to suspension.

He is a match winner. As a coach, I was just happy to see him back as soon as possible after the suspension was lifted. The whole team was happy to see him back rather than farting around in India and waiting for things to happen. I am glad things were fast tracked and he is back where he belongs on the cricket field.

You pride yourself to be a man manager. What do you tell Hardik Pandya about how to get over the situation he was in?

I have told him brush it off (the repercussions following his comments on the chat show 'Koffee with Karan'). Consider it a rap on the knuckles, a hard rap on the knuckles, and now move on. I have told him, 'You are born for better stuff'.

Who doesn't make mistakes? He has not made a mistake where you can book him for anything. I think the BCCI handled it well with a proper rap on his knuckles (for whatever was said). I don't want to comment on the BCCI process, though. Only, that they brought him back to where he belongs. I am happy to see him where he belongs, on the cricket field.

The other is Rishabh Pant. He has made quite an impact in the Test arena, but is still fighting for his place in limited-overs' cricket for obvious reasons. Does he have a shot at going to the World Cup?

Outstanding (player)! What I love about that kid is his self-confidence, and his ability to listen and learn. Take his hundred in the Sydney Test - we challenged him on the morning of the game to get a hundred. I told him, 'be smart with Nathan Lyon, and attack the fast bowlers. And he got 150. What a special kid...What a special talent!

As far as World Cup plans are concerned, we will have to see. Selectors will discuss that. Pant has been playing for India A and he is coming here (New Zealand) for T20s. We will have to see. As far as selection for the World Cup is concerned, this process will carry on till the last minute.

We will see one month of IPL form as well. So, current form will be crucial. We have to really consider form when selecting the side, or for the 1-2 spots that are left.

Okay, so what is missing from the Indian squad for World Cup? Where is team India at present in this preparation with only five ODIs remaining?

Nothing is missing really. But it is about just identifying who is the best for a particular position. We have got talent, we have skill, we have fast bowlers and we have belief. We have last two positions to consider and the selectors are on our page.

Only thing, I don't want passengers in the World Cup squad. I want players who are part of the team and can play at any time. I don't want an extra this or that, if someone gets injured, no. I want a guy who can play anytime depending on the conditions and that's one of the qualities of a top team - to be flexible at any time.

Like sending Vijay Shankar at number six, or even playing him. From 18-4 we went to 116-4, 98 run partnership. Then he got run out, but we are prepared to do all that. So I want guys who can play any time in our World Cup squad. We are still checking whether it will be a 15-man squad or a 16-man squad. I am told it's 15, and so, we have to be smart to picking those players.

What are those two spots?

If it is not a 16-man squad, then we might be looking for only one spot. We will have to see what we need - additional strength in terms of who we need to take, whether an extra batsman or an extra bowler. We have to carry an extra keeper. So we will have to figure out this balance.

It's 10 teams, all playing against each other, with top four progressing to the semis, in this World Cup. You played in the 1992 World Cup, which had the same format - what is the key to winning in this format?

We have to go with the tide. There will be nine league games. We want a good solid start, and it will take about three matches to know where you stand. In three games we should know where we are and what are the things we need to improve on. If we start off fine, why change it?

India are now considered joint favourites along with England, if not second-favourites behind them.

We won't bother going to the World Cup if we don't believe we can win it. No need to go then.

A lot of criticism has been aimed at you, personally, as the coach. How do you deal with it?

I wish they could dish out more criticism (smiles). It helps me and I treat all that as constructive criticism. That's why I thanked all my buddies in the media after the Australia series, so again, thank you very much. I want them to criticise me even more because then we go and produce these results, and I love it.

See, I don't know the half of it (criticism). I only post on social media, I don't read, barring the occasional thing. I don't know what is trolling, or what trolls do on Twitter or on social media.

If you see me speak the way I do, it lifts the team up. I am not holding a microphone in my hand all the time. This is for my team.

And lastly, your contract runs out after the World Cup. Do you want to continue coaching the Indian team (and will put your name up for the coach selection process again), or do you want to return to the commentary box?

I did it (broadcasting) for 23 years and can do it again for 50 more years, whenever I go back. I am in no hurry to return to the commentary box. Future is a mystery, and past is history. I shall live in the present. Present is a present from God, so I want to enjoy it.

In part one of this comprehensive interview, Ravi Shastri talks about salient aspects of this Indian team's development, Virat Kohli's evolution as skipper and batsman, impact of Cheteshwar Pujara, the fast bowling group and how India shape up for future challenges in Test cricket. You can read it here.

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