Dhoni's spasms may shake up India's batting combination - Kohli
In the lead up to the World T20, India's success in the shortest format has been built on the success of their top order. They swept Australia 3-0 with Virat Kohli scoring 199 runs in three matches. He was dismissed only once. Rohit Sharma was not too far behind, making 143 runs at an average of 47.66 and a strike rate of 136.19. Shikhar Dhawan found form against Sri Lanka and even showed signs of an expanded range of shots on the leg side.
It is likely that these three will still be India's top three when they play the World T20, but at the Asia Cup they have a minor problem. MS Dhoni is an uncertain starter for the tournament opener against Bangladesh after an onset of back spasms during training in Fatullah on Monday and this means that the batting combination needs to be relooked. So, Parthiv Patel, who has not played for India since 2012, has been flown in as cover.
Parthiv was part of the senior core that won Gujarat their first-ever domestic one-day trophy last December. He hit his first-ever List A ton to secure the title. He was in fine form in Twenty20s as well, striking four fifties in five matches, including three on the trot. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of his success in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy was his strike rate - 162.80 - comfortably the best among the top-five run-getters in the tournament. Parthiv finished with 337 runs in nine matches, but all those runs had come at the top of the order.
Budging Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli off Nos. 1, 2 and 3 does not seem likely. Then there is Suresh Raina, who needs to get used to No. 4 because Dhoni wants to try him at that position in the World T20, and Yuvraj Singh can bat no lower than No. 5. So if Dhoni, who is the regular No. 6 is unable to play, Parthiv might well have to slot into the lower-middle order. None of this is certain because India have not ruled out their captain from playing the match on Wednesday, but if the injury is anywhere near serious and with the World T20 just weeks away, it seems logical that they won't take any risks.
"Obviously, a player having a niggle just before a game and obviously someone like MS who is sort of a pillar for us in the middle order [is a problem]," Kohli said. "[And with] Parthiv coming in, we will obviously have to sit down and see [what happens] if that situation comes in where he has to play.
"We will have to then sort out what's the best possible combination for the team in terms of the batting order. As of now, unless we have a decision, we cannot sit down and make a concrete plan. Obviously discussions will happen sometime today during the practice session as to what needs to be done if that situation [Dhoni does not play] arises. It's obviously going to be a different from what we've been playing till now. Just have to wait and see."
India will have to fit their incumbent players' preferences into those calculations. Kohli himself for example has been outstanding at No. 3 in T20Is lately. It wasn't that long ago that he appeared to be a fidgety player. He had a habit of hitting the ball too hard and got restless when he couldn't play according to a set template.
"My plan in my early T20 playing days was to get myself in for a few balls, maybe ten balls, and then score quickly," Kohli said. "I used to think too much about T20 cricket. I used to think that maybe I don't hit as many big shots as some of the other players, or that I don't hit too many sixes. So I used to try to do a lot more, plan too much."
In IPLs 2008, 2009 - when he was a rookie with Royal Challengers Bangalore - and 2012 and 2014 - when he was brought into the leadership fold - his strike rate was under 125. He did have outstanding seasons in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 but the Australia tour showed Kohli's skill as a batsman in the sharpest light. He has added the sweep to his repertoire, having worked on it with Rahul Dravid, during India A's second unofficial Test against Australia A, ahead of the Sri Lanka tour. His extra-cover lofts have often been as striking as they have been productive. And the thirst for singles and twos has meshed well with his ability to now play with softer hands and still find the necessary runs.
His T20I average of 50.62 is the highest in the world under condition of 500 runs. Add that to him having the lowest dot-ball percentage in the world - 28.2 - and it is clear that he needs to be given every opportunity to take control of a cricket match.
"Now I play on instinct. I have come to terms with the fact that I can't hit too many sixes, so I concentrate on hitting boundaries," Kohli said. " I have tried to mould my game to that, try to hit the ball in the gaps and get fours, rather than sixes, which is a higher risk shot. I might hit more boundaries than sixes and still get the result. I am scoring at 160 still, so it doesn't matter if I am hitting sixes or fours or doing it in singles and doubles. That's the mindset I go in with in this format."
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo