Kohli to open in IPL in preparation for T20 World Cup

"It augurs well for the team and I would like this to continue, and hopefully continue that form through to the World Cup"

Saurabh Somani
Before the deciding fifth T20I against England on Saturday, Virat Kohli had opened the innings in T20Is only seven times in 83 innings, and only once since 2018. However, the India captain is looking at a longer stay up the order, for both the national team as well as the Royal Challengers Bangalore, his IPL franchise, in the lead up to the T20 World Cup in October in India.
Kohli's partnership with Rohit Sharma at the top of the innings paid off spectacularly for India, with Sharma teeing off to smash 64 off 34, and Kohli playing anchor to bat through the innings and end up with 80* off 52 in a mammoth Indian total of 224 for 2. Kohli hopes to replicate that, while also revealing that India are likely to play a few more T20Is just before the World Cup.
"Yes. I am going to open in the IPL as well," Kohli told Star Sports at the presentation after India sealed a 36-run win to take the series 3-2. "Look, I've batted at different positions in the past, but I feel like we do have a very solid middle order now, and now it's about your two best players getting the maximum number of balls in T20 cricket. So I would definitely like to partner Rohit at the top. As I rightly said, if we have a partnership and we both are set, then you know that one of us is going to cause some serious damage. That's exactly what we want. And the other guys feel much more confident when one of us is still in and set, they know that they can play more freely. It augurs well for the team and I would like this to continue, and hopefully continue that form through to the World Cup."
In India's original international schedule, these five T20Is against England were the last in the format for them before the T20 World Cup, but Kohli revealed there might now be more games added into the calendar after India's Test series in England which is scheduled to end on September 14. That could give the pairing of Kohli and Sharma more time together at the top too.
"I just found out that we might have some more [games before the T20 World Cup], after the Test series against England," Kohli said. "Yeah, more or less sorted [in terms of who will make the squad]. We are very very confident. Very happy with how things have panned out. We just want to keep moving forward with more positivity and fearlessness."
Kohli's opening partner and vice-captain Sharma, however, preferred to take a more pragmatic view of what the combination at the top would be, pointing out that the T20 World Cup was several months away, and things could change.
Kohli had said before the series that India's preferred opening combination would be KL Rahul and Sharma. However, Rahul was left out of the XI for the final T20I after meagre returns of 15 runs in four matches, at a strike rate of 48.38. Sharma, however, said leaving out Rahul was purely a tactical call made for one specific match, in which current form played a part.
"It's still a long time for the World Cup. Early days to talk about what the batting line up will be looking like," Sharma said at the post-match press conference. "We'll just have to analyse and think about what suits the team most. Today was, I guess, a tactical move because we wanted an extra bowler to play. We wanted to leave one batsman out, and unfortunately, it was KL, which was very tough.
"KL, we know, he has been one of our key players in the limited-overs format, especially in this format. But looking at the current form, the team management decided to go with the best XI. Having said that, it doesn't send any signal that KL will not be considered or anything like that. This was just for one particular game.
"Things might change as and when we get closer to the World Cup. We do understand his ability, we do understand his contribution at the top, what he's done for us. So I'm not going to rule out anything and neither am I going to say that this is the preferred batting line-up for the World Cup, because it's still early days. We've got a good amount of time, there's the IPL in between and I'm hearing there will be a few T20s as well before the World Cup."
Stressing the distance that remained, time-wise, between now and the T20 World Cup and that there was a lot of T20 cricket to be played with the IPL and the newly scheduled T20Is Kohli spoke of, Sharma said any calls could only be made closer to the event.
"Sometimes you might feel that you need to have six bowlers in your playing XI, which means you might have to sacrifice a batsman," he said. "As and when we get closer to the World Cup we need to see the opposition that we are playing, the grounds we are playing at. It plays a huge role depending on the opposition and the conditions out there.
"I'm sure we need to sit and analyse and recollect our thoughts, think about what will be the right thing to do for the team. If it means he has to open with me, so be it. Whatever we as a team feel is right, we will go ahead with that no matter what is happening outside. But again like I said, the World Cup is too far ahead.
"We just finished the T20I series so I don't think Virat will open in the ODIs (laughs). So let's talk about what is next for us and try and move from this wonderful series that we played as a team. Everyone contributed towards success, which was good to see. Complete team effort."

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo