If India were playing their first T20 World Cup match - against Pakistan - next week, Ricky Ponting would play Virat Kohli at his usual No. 3 position despite his current form. Ponting, the former Australia captain and current Delhi Capitals coach, told The ICC Review that any opposition will be relieved if India decide to drop Kohli.
"I think if I was an opposition captain or an opposition player, I will be fearing playing an Indian team that has Virat Kohli in it, more than I would be one that doesn't have him in it," Ponting said. "I know there have been some challenges for him, it's been a difficult time. But every great player that I have seen in this game has been through it at some stage, whether that's a batsman or a bowler, they have all been through it. And somehow, the best find a way to rebound and respond, and it's only a matter of time before Virat does that."
Kohli has not scored an international century since November 2019, but it is his T20 returns that are the most concerning for India. In the last IPL, Kohli tried various things but ended up with a strike-rate of just 116, the lowest among batters who played at least 250 balls in the tournament. Ponting still felt the payoff, if it came off, would be bigger than any other replacement having a "reasonable" tournament.
"The other thing you risk as well is, if you leave Virat out on the eve of a T20 World Cup, and someone comes in and has a reasonable tournament, it will be hard for Virat to get back in it," Ponting said. "If I was India, I would keep pushing with him, because I know the upside. If they actually get him back confident and playing as well as he can, that upside is better than most. So I think if I was a captain or a coach around the Indian setup, I'd be making life as easy as possible for him to feel as comfortable as possible, and just wait for him to flick the switch and start scoring runs again."
Ponting said he would put all the eggs in the Kohli basket as opposed to trying someone else and bringing Kohli in only if his replacement fails.
"Early in the tournament, for a first-round game, get him in nice and early, among the runs, and then hopefully by the end of the tournament you'll have Virat Kohli back at his best," Ponting said. "That's the way I would look at it. I wouldn't think about holding him back at the start of the tournament, with the thought that you might be able to bring him back towards the back end and have him peak. Tournament play isn't like that. You need to work your way into the tournament, get some runs under your belt, and get some confidence and then be playing your best cricket at the back end."
However, Ponting did say pushing Kohli to open just so he finds his ideal conditions can be counterproductive. "You still got to find the best balance for the team," he said. "You can't just make the team all about one person.
"They probably should be trying to find new ways to get him back into the form and help him out but that [giving him the opening spot] quite often comes at the expense of someone else as well. You are moving someone else around trying to find a spot for Virat. He has opened the batting, he's batted at No.3 in the IPL in the last couple of years and done the same for India.
"Moving him around, to me, will make him feel that people are worried about him, and he will be more unsettled. I will be going the other way. I'll be telling him, 'This is your spot, this is where you're batting, it's not going to change. Keep believing in yourself, keep putting in the hard work, keep understanding what made you the best player in the world for a number of years. Get back to those thoughts and the runs will come.'"