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Virat Kohli has indicated that he will bat at No. 3 during the T20 World Cup, reversing his desire to open with Rohit Sharma, which he expressed during the home T20 series against England in March. Speaking on Monday at the toss ahead of India's first warm-up match against England, Kohli said KL Rahul's commanding form in the IPL was so compelling that he was the best choice to be Rohit's opening partner.
"Things were different before IPL started and now KL Rahul is playing the way he is, so it's very hard to look past him at top of the order," Kohli said. "Rohit is a no-brainer. He has been a world-class player right at the top of the order for us. I will be batting at three."
In the 16 matches he has played at the previous three T20 World Cups, Kohli has always batted at No. 3. Kohli was the highest run-getter in the 2014 edition of the tournament, and the second-highest in 2016.
But in March, after India's emphatic win in the fifth T20I against England, Kohli said he would "like to partner" with Rohit because of the potential "damage" each batter was capable of causing once set.
The 94-run opening partnership between Rohit and Kohli was the scaffolding on which India built the win, with the captain batting through the innings and scoring an unbeaten 52-ball 80. Rahul was dropped for the final T20I after scoring just 15 runs in the first four games, including two ducks.
That was only the seventh occasion on which Kohli opened for India in T20Is, but he said he would open for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL to prepare for the World Cup. Kohli finished this IPL with 405 runs at a strike rate of 119.46 and an average of 28.92.
In 16 T20 games this year, including 15 in the IPL, Kohli has opened the batting and managed strike rates of 129.00 in the powerplay and 112.57 in the middle overs. The middle-overs strike rate is the lowest among Indian batters who have batted five or more times this year.
In contrast Rahul, leading Punjab Kings, once again finished among the IPL's most prolific batters, finishing as the third-highest runmaker with 626 runs. Although the Kings failed to make the play-offs, Rahul ended the tournament with a spectacular, unbeaten 42-ball 98 against eventual champions Chennai Super Kings, one of the innings of the tournament.
Since 2018, Rahul has been the highest run-getter in the IPL with 2548 runs, winning the Orange Cap (most runs) in the 2020 edition. While announcing the India 15 for the World Cup, Chetan Sharma, India's chief selector, had nominated Rohit and Rahul as the first-choice openers with Ishan Kishan as the back-up, without naming Kohli. Against England in the warm-up game, both Rahul and Kishan were part of the playing XI with Rohit resting.
This World Cup is Kohli's final assignment as India's T20I captain after he announced recently that he would step down from the leadership position in the shortest format. Kohl said India were "pretty sorted" about their planning ahead of the first match in the tournament, on October 24 in Dubai against Pakistan.