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Virat Kohli has been the backbone of Indian batting in Tests for the last 14 years since he made his debut. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Dubai: The hosts India are flying high after securing the five-match Test series against England with an unassailable 3-1 advantage and have tightened their hold on the series with a dominating show on the opening day of the fifth and final tie at Dharamsala on Thursday.

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The series has been a revelation of sorts as the Rohit Sharma-led team with plenty of newcomers managed to pull their weight behind the team’s success. The standout performer is the young left-handed opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, who seemed to have taken a liking to the challenge posed by the English attack.

While there are many positives that can augur well for the future of India in the longest format with several wannabes trying to establish their reign, there is no real contender for King Kohli’s throne. If there is one weak-link in the Indian juggernaut, then it is the No 4 spot, which has been held by just two great batters of world cricket — Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli — for close to last four decades.

Run machines

Excepting the odd instances when Kohli or Tendulkar had missed a Test series due to injury or personal reasons, the two have successful filled that pivotal role to perfection since the Master Blaster made his debut against Pakistan in November 1989. The duo have scored a total of 24,769 runs for India in 313 Tests.

India have already tested three different batters in that role in this home series and are set to use a fourth in debutant Devdutt Padikkal, who has been playing at No 3 for his state Karnataka, in the fifth Test.

The 35-year-old Indian talisman has scored 29 Test centuries in 113 Tests. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

No 3 and No 4 positions have the ability to tilt the balance in their team’s favaour and many greats and legends have occupied that role. The job requires the ability to play spin and pace well. They could either walk in to the crease when the scoreboard reads zero for one or two or they could spend a day waiting after one or both openers had scored a century. Rahul Dravid held the No 3 spot his own since his debut at Lord’s in 1996 and the Men in Blue found a perfect replacement for The Wall in Cheteshwar Pujara for that spot.

Shubman Gill, who had played as an opener, has stated settling down in his new role as No 3 in this series after a bit of struggle, but India are struggling to fill the void left by Kohli, who has taken a break for the birth of his second child.

Greater challenge awaits Team India

KL Rahul, who replaced Kohli, has so far the best record with scores of 86 and 22 in the first Test, which India lost at Hyderabad. Shreyas Iyer had scores of 27 and 29, while Rajat Patidar, who made his debut in the second Test, made scores of 5, 0, 17, 0 in the four innings he had come in at No 4 spot.

While this is the performance of the contenders to Kohli’s throne in familiar home conditions, where most of them have produced dominating performances in the domestic Ranji Trophy, the away series will pose a greater challenge without the star cricketer. When Tendullkar hung his boots, Kohli eased into that role, but barring Rahul, there is no one who has the skill and technique to fill those large shoes.

It is not just his performance with the bat that India has missed in this series. He has the ability to bring the fans on their feet and put pressure on the rivals. He could have brought crowd support when India lost the first Test. Even during the fifth Test, one could hear chants of Kohli at Dharamsala.

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Kohli has been an epitome of fitness and has been instrumental in bringing the a high fitness culture in the Indian dressing room. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Hence, it is important for Kohli to be part of the Indian team in the longest format for at least another four to five years. Given Kohli’s fitness and the appetite to perform at the highest level, it will not be difficult for him to be part of the Men in Blue for these years or more.

The team management should utilise this period to blood in someone who could ease into that role. Is the talented Padikkal the answer to the complex question? Only time will tell. But for now, India will not be playing a Test series until Bangladesh tour of India in September-October, followed by New Zealand series at home. India’s big test will come in November when the Men in Blue travel to Australia for a five-Test series.

Returning to IPL action

The former Indian captain is set to return to action during the Indian Premier League (IPL), which begins on March 22 with defending champions Chennai Super Kings taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai.

Legendary Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar had cheekily mentioned that Kohli may miss the IPL too, but former South African skipper and long-time Royal Challengers teammate AB de Villiers is confident that the talisman will be playing in the 17th edition for which the schedule has been released only for the first two weeks due to the impending Parliamentary elections.

The IPL will allow the Indian players to prepare for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in the West Indies and USA and no doubt all eyes will be on King Kohli when he walks in with his swagger on March 22 in Chennai.