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The India-New Zealand T20 series kicks off today even as every team is preparing for the T20 World Cup in October. A key to success will be the batting line-up, which has unsettled an otherwise strong Indian team. Mint dissects the calculations behind picking a good line-up.

Why does the batting order need to click?

Different batting positions require different skills and approaches. The openers take advantage of the hard new ball flying off the bat and fielding restrictions. The ideal No. 3 is somebody like Virat Kohli with the range to anchor the innings. Numbers 4 and 5 need the flexibility to adapt to the situation when they come in. Lower down the order come power-hitters, who can help the team finish off on a high. Fitting the right people to these roles requires a clear strategy. The players also need clarity about their roles so that they prepare for them, both mentally and in practising their shots.

Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
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Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint

What should be the Indian line-up?

Shikhar Dhawan’s performance against Australia before he got injured marks him as India’s T20 World Cup opener, although K.L. Rahul will partner the redoubtable Rohit Sharma against the Kiwis. After Dhawan returns, Rahul should drop to No. 4 and shut that revolving door. He’s a strokemaker par excellence with the temperament to hold down the position. That will leave No. 5 up for grabs between Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and others. Rishabh Pant has the firepower India needs at No. 6. Ravindra Jadeja or Hardik Pandya, when he returns, would be the other hitman at No 7.

Which was the world’s best batting line-up?

The 1975 World Cup-winning West Indies team had a dream line-up: Roy Fredericks and Gordon Greenidge at the top, followed by Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. Australia in the noughties come second. Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden opened. Then came Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Mike Hussey and Shane Watson.

Is there a batting order based on pitches?

A flexible mindset can work, if it doesn’t degenerate into the kind of tinkering that unsettles the team. A move that worked is Sunil Gavas-kar demoting himself to make Ravi Shastri the sheet anchor at the top. That was a masterstroke in bowler-friendly conditions of Australia and helped India win the 1985 World Series. Match situations also call for flexibility. M.S. Dhoni promoting himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh to blunt Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan in the 2011 World Cup is folklore. But India’s rotating No. 4 now has been unsettling.

Is there a case for settling key positions?

Ever since Ajinkya Rahane’s ODI form declined, India’s No. 4 slot has been a game of musical chairs, so much so that nobody has had a fair chance to make the position his own. Even Kohli dropped down to No. 4 before better sense prevailed. Rahul’s versatility makes him the best candidate, but he keeps getting bumped up the order to open every time Dhawan misses out. He looked jaded in the last ODI against Australia when he had to open after keeping wickets.

Sumit Chakraberty is a consulting editor with Mint.

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