Virat Kohli happy to play the 'cushion' role as KL Rahul inflates India's ambitions

Should Virat Kohli, the king of chases in ODIs, bat anywhere other than one-down in next year's World Cup? It is a no-brainer, you might assume, considering Kohli has scaled unrivalled peaks in the 50-over format when chasing down targets from his habitual No.3 position.

But the King now wants to empower the rest of his cavalry, so that in any given situation, other Indian batsmen will be able to perform different roles with equal aplomb. In a chat on Tuesday evening with the Sky Sports presenter Ian Ward, Kohli said India cannot afford to be "one-dimensional" anymore, having just watched Kuldeep Yadav and KL Rahul silence England in the first match of the T20I series.

Rahul, who blasted a century in his very match in England, had been promoted to that No. 3 position, the first experiment of a "phase", leading up to the World Cup, in which the Indian think-tank wanted to try out new guys in different positions.

Since he took over as India's captain in January 2017, Kohli has looked for players who can force the issue and create panic in the opposition. Rahul is high on that list, although he has been unlucky to miss out on recent opportunities due to injuries. Nevertheless, every time he has been fit, he has been part of the Indian squad.

Despite sitting in the dug-out on Tuesday, Kohli was as impressed as the India fans at Old Trafford by Rahul's dazzling strokeplay, which he described as "unbelievable" and "so clean, so crisp".

Now he wants Rahul to strengthen his spot in the middle order. "We want guys like him to step up and bat even more strongly, so we have flexibility for the other guys to move around and play with more freedom and go up and down the order," Kohli said. "We don't want to be one-dimensional. This guy the way he is batting, he gives us so much flexibility and allows the other guys to bat the way they want to around him. As you saw there, he has great shape, he has good technique, he has got a great temperament. And he is very hungry. He was very hungry today."

In his post-match analysis on ESPNcricinfo, VVS Laxman noted that it was a selfless move by Kohli to allow Rahul to play the No. 3 role that the Indian captain had made his own. Kohli, however, pointed out it was actually a strategic move.

And even if might not work all the time, he wanted the youngsters to know that senior players like him and MS Dhoni would be the "cushion" for them to play their role with freedom.

"I am batting 4. I used to bat 3. It allows me to control the innings a bit more, when you have someone as good as KL in the Powerplay, the minute he gets in or after that as well, he just keeps going after the bowlers, knowing that he has senior batsmen behind him.

"That sort of mindset is something that we want these youngsters to experience and just go and play free cricket and be fearless. Absolutely enjoy themselves in the middle. The way he batted and the way Kuldeep bowled is exactly how we want them to play. There are going to be days when it is not going to come off, but we don't want them to chase their mindset. We want to be that cushion behind them that sort of gives them the freedom to go out and express themselves."