India made a blunder when they placed their batting maestro at No. 4 in the opening ODI against Australia. Don't weaken a strength to strengthen a weakness is a wise adage, but India ignored it and paid a hefty price.
Virat Kohli is the No. 1 short-form player wherever he bats, but at No. 3, he is ideally placed to fully utilise all his skills to the team's best advantage.
In ODIs, the three batsmen most likely to score a century should be at the top of the order, with the opportunity to face the bulk of the deliveries. This theory applies to all teams, but in Kohli's case, and especially against Australia, it is critical. Australia have two of the best fast bowlers in the game and the Indian batsmen best equipped to challenge them are Kohli and Rohit Sharma. If Kohli gets on top of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc then batting becomes easier against the remainder of the Australian attack. A rampant Kohli against the Australian pace pair also means captain Aaron Finch will have headaches that an aspirin won't fix. This was evident in the second ODI, when Kohli dominated after being sensibly returned to his rightful No. 3 spot.
Finch was forced to bring Cummins and Starc back on earlier than he would have liked, and in doing so used up overs that were planned for the tail-end of the innings.
Despite the reversal in Rajkot, Australia are a very good side with enough class players to punish any opposition mistakes. Placing Kohli lower in the order in Mumbai was a big mistake.
If the middle order is a concern for India, the best way to overcome the problem - other than finding a player to plug the hole - is to have Kohli making big scores at three.
However, it's hard to see where the problem lies. There is no doubt that KL Rahul has the talent to bat successfully at No. 4, and since that is the spot available to him while Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have a mortgage on the opening partnership, the best policy is to persevere with Rahul batting behind Kohli.
Shreyas Iyer, who followed Kohli at No. 5 in Mumbai, was afforded the sort of treatment a lot of the Indian batsmen can expect when they tour Australia next season. He was softened up with some well-directed short stuff before succumbing to a fuller delivery from left-armer Starc. This is standard fare on the bouncier Australian pitches and it's a strategy the Indian batsmen should be prepared for on that eagerly awaited tour.
In pondering that Test series there are a few pointers that can be gleaned from this short ODI contest.
Firstly, the batting order in a Test series is a different proposition. India have a perfectly good Test No. 3 in Cheteshwar Pujara, so in the longer format, four is the correct spot for Kohli.
From Australia's point of view, they may want to consider playing legspinner Mitchell Swepson at home following Adam Zampa's success against Kohli in the first two ODIs. This will obviously depend on the venues, as Nathan Lyon will be the first spinner chosen, but Zampa's five successes against Kohli may be a possible fragility worth pursuing.
The Mumbai success was Australia's fourth ODI win on the trot in India, dating back to last year. It's not a good policy to let an Australia team get on top mentally, especially as Tim Paine has the Test side in a far different frame of mind from the shell-shocked bunch who lost to India in 2018-19.
India are the best equipped side in world cricket to tackle the Australian Test team at home. They have the bowlers and batsmen to succeed in those conditions, but the way these two ODI contests have fluctuated is an indication that that forthcoming tour is going to be a lot tougher than the last one.