To bring in more flexibility in the squad ahead of the Men’s ODI World Cup, India skipper Rohit Sharma said he wants to ensure players in the side are fine with batting anywhere if the need arises, especially in the middle-order, though they have been given specific roles in the line-up.
"Ajit (Agarkar, chief selector) is new to the picture and he didn’t know what was happening before that. I have tried to keep him updated as much as possible. But one thing I want in this team is to make sure everyone is okay to bat anywhere. That's one thing we need to keep in mind. Now, cricket is moving in a different direction."
"You need flexibility, and guys who can step up at any position. No one should say, 'I'm good at this position or I'm good at that position'. You want guys to be able to bat anywhere, that's the message conveyed to every individual. Not now, but over the last two, three, or four years," said Rohit in a press conference on the occasion of the announcement of India's squad for the upcoming Asia Cup.
For the Asia Cup, India can finally look to field a settled batting order with the return of K.L Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, though the former has a niggle issue to address. With Suryakumar Yadav and Tilak Varma in the mix, Rohit added that the process of flexibility in the team wasn’t decided in a day.
"I know it's tough for you guys on the outside to understand why a guy who bats at six is batting at four, but the message has been given and it hasn’t happened overnight. This is an international sport, not club cricket, that you're talking about. It's not like we go to sleep giving a position for a certain player and then change it the next morning."
"We say, 'This is what we want'. You don't want to be handicapped or stuck with one player batting in one position. Having said that, you want to get the best out of players in certain positions. All seven-eight numbers are open to anyone, that's the message we have sent out for so many years now."
In the absence of Rahul and Iyer, India didn’t have a settled middle-order in the ODI leg of the tour of the West Indies despite trying Sanju Samson, Suryakumar Yadav and Axar Patel at that spot.
With Iyer returning and hopefully Rahul, India can heave a sigh of relief over the middle-order conundrum, especially at number four, something which was a huge reason for the semifinal exit during the 2019 World Cup in England. But Rohit seemed unperturbed by the number four muddle.
“We have got guys who can bat at number and it’s not about number four. It’s about the top three and there onwards, four, five, six, seven and there onwards and who can win us game. There have been challenges and guys have been put under pressure and that’s a good thing.”
“Unfortunately, we had injuries along the line and we had to try out different players and keep in mind workload management and see what combination suits us. We have nine ODIs and two practice games (left) and we have a lot of games where these guys will get a chance to make the position their own,” he stated.
Ajit Agarkar, the chairman of selectors, further explained Rohit's views on flexibility in the batting order. "Rohit didn't say anyone can play anywhere. What he said is a player should be flexible in the mind. A player knows his role, where he's going to play, which over he's likely to bowl."
"A new-ball bowler will bowl with the new ball, or whether he can bowl in middle overs -- those roles are set. But as the game or tournament evolves, you look at someone's form or the team's form, against whom you are playing, players should be flexible in the mind."
"Every captain has a plan that this batter will bat here, and we will play in this specific way, but as the tournament progresses, if someone's form is good, someone is playing well or match-ups dictate playing someone against a certain bowler, we're talking about that kind of flexibility, which is important."
"That much talent is there in the team. If there's talent that flexibility will come. It doesn't mean the role is not specified, roles are specified, and you feel comfortable because of that."
Rohit then offered more insight into what he meant by his previous comment on flexibility. "When I said flexibility is important, it's not like I'm trying to say that send the opener at number seven or open the batting with Hardik Pandya, and tabahi machao (create havoc with batting order)."
"Shikhar (Dhawan) and Rohit have only opened in the last seven-eight years, Kohli has batted only at three. Youngsters who come in at four-five, it's important for them to be flexible, batting up and down."
"In the last four-five years if you look, the opener has opened, No. 3 has batted at three, KL (Rahul) has batted five, Hardik six, (Ravindra) Jadeja seven. Four and five, sometimes if they move up and down, there's no problem. That much flexibility is important."
"Our position too when we came in, we batted up and down, I'm talking of that flexibility. It's not like the opener bat at eight and eight opens, we don't do such pagalpanti (mad things). A little bit of flexibility up and down is needed in a team."