Indian skipper Virat Kohli on Wednesday (January 31) opened up about Ajinkya Rahane’s role in the current ODI setup, saying that the classy right-hander from Mumbai is a strong No. 4 candidate for the 2019 World Cup, slated to be held in England.
Kohli highlighted his team’s strength in every department but admitted that the No. 4 spot still needs to be sorted out. As of today, Rahane was deemed as India’s reserved ODI opener. However, one shouldn’t be surprised if the 29-year-old comes out to bat at crucial number four position in the upcoming six-match ODI series against South Africa, starting on Thursday (February 1) at Kingsmead, Durban.
"We have explored many options in the last few months. We don't have too many series and too much time left before the World Cup, so we want to explore all the options before the World Cup," Kohli was quoted by PTI as saying on the eve of the ODI series opener.
"I had said earlier that Ajinkya Rahane would be looked at as a third opener but that situation can change because he has batted at No. 4 in a World Cup (in 2015) before. These conditions are such that you get to play fast bowling throughout the innings so he becomes a strong candidate for No. 4.
"Other than him we have Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey. We don't want to be one-dimensional. It depends whose technique is more suited to what spot especially in that particular country. All options are open," he further said.
Kohli believes the trio of MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya are doing an exceptional job in the lower order, but the middle order remains to be the cause of concern.
"Although the lower middle order is more or less sorted, the middle order is something we are still looking at. The combination is working well for us with Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni rotating and batting together.
"No. 4 is something we have experimented with in the last couple of series. That is the only spot I can see that needs to be solidified otherwise the team looks pretty balanced," he pointed out.
Stressing on the current squad, Kohli asserted that they have already got the core of players for next year's World Cup.
"It's about who takes that one particular spot (number four). It's not even spots above and below. Guys who are given the opportunity need to capitalise and really string in performances that convince the management and the team very soon that that guy is meant to play at that spot for the team.
"I feel the core of players is more or less pretty strong at the moment. Obviously changes can happen at any stage. You don't know whether someone is going to be in form or not or what the team requires at certain stages," said the Indian captain.
The Men in Blue have never won a bilateral ODI series against the Proteas on their turf neither they have beaten South Africa at Durban. In fact, India have managed to win only 5 out of 27 ODIs on South African soil against the same opponent.
When asked about India’s poor record in the rainbow nation, Kohli said: "We obviously want to win every series that we play. Thinking of records or doing something that hasn't been done before is not something you think of before achieving it. It just adds extra pressure, which is not needed.
"But yes, we took a lot of confidence from that last Test. As batsmen obviously, everyone is looking forward to stepping up. Like in the last Test how we believed in ourselves and ended up winning the Test. We have to carry the same belief throughout this series," he added.
Kohli expects the surfaces to be much more batting friendly in ODIs than what was seen during the Test series.
"The wickets are going to be much better than the Test series, because of the format and this pitch looks pretty balanced I would say for a good game of cricket," he concluded.
India's ODI squad for South Africa ODIs:
Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur.