A Sunday blockbuster is coming our way from England. It’s the mother of all battles in this year’s Cricket World Cup. India will take on Pakistan at Old Trafford on Sunday night (AEST).
Call it a conundrum, a crisis, a problem or a mystery, it’s been a never-ending one.
The experiment with India’s No. 4 in one-day cricket has been endless, and every now and then a new player pops up. India have used as many as 12 players at the coveted No. 4 slot since the 2015 World Cup. Players have come and gone, but none has cemented their place.
In fact no other team has used more players than India in this particular spot. Sri Lanka have also used 12 players, but the players collectively average almost 40 at No. 4 since the 2015 World Cup. Similarly, the collective average for India is a little over 37 and the strike rate is about 84.
Ambati Rayudu was India’s designated No. 4 for quite a few series. He started off with a bang but tapered off as the World Cup approached, hence he was dropped. He’s played the most number of innings at No. 4 for the men in blue since the 2015 World Cup.
Ajinkya Rahane was India’s No. 4 in the last World Cup but was criticised for his approach in the middle before he came back at that spot in February 2018. However, that experiment was also shunned. Yuvraj Singh was back for while, but barring an innings or two he largely struggled. The likes of Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer came and went. They failed to perform in the limited opportunities they got. They never came back once they were dropped.
In fact only three centuries have come from the No. 4 position for India since the 2015 World Cup. The No. 4 crisis has contributed to India’s middle-order woes big time. Thus there was a lot of speculation about the No. 4 spot ahead of the World Cup squad selection.
Hence when the D-day of India’s World Cup squad announcement arrived, the selectors went in favour of a possible 13th No. 4 player, Vijay Shankar.
“Vijay Shankar is three dimensional. We are looking at him at No. 4 to begin with,” MSK Prasad said in a post-selection press conference.
Vijay Shankar came into the team due to the suspension of Hardik Pandya earlier this year, and life has changed drastically for the Tamil Nadu lad. However, he has not been in the best of form in the lead-up to this World Cup. He didn’t have a great IPL, but he has shown he can adapt and has the ability to deliver. However, Shankar injured himself in the nets when he copped a blow on his right forearm. There is no official confirmation on the extent of the injury.
Whether Shankar is fit or not, India have a few options at No. 4. One of the options could well be playing MS Dhoni at No. 4. The former Indian skipper is very well suited to bat at the two-drop position and seems a good choice as well. Moreover, Dhoni needs some time to get set and get going. Hence batting at No. 4 could give him that space and time. He has done in it in the past as well and could do it once again. In fact he has very good numbers batting at No. 4.
KL Rahul is in the mix as well. The Karnataka batsman has primarily been picked as a backup opener but has batted at No. 4 at various junctures of his career in white-ball cricket. He is among the 12 players India have tried at No. 4, but he’s got just four opportunities at that spot and has failed on every occasion.
However, Rahul seems to have the game and temperament to bat at No. 4 and maybe just needs some more game time and experience in that slot. He even has a T20 hundred batting at No. 4 and has batted at that position quite a bit in 20-over cricket.
Dinesh Karthik is being looked upon as a finisher but can do the job at No. 4 as well – in fact he has the best average (52.80) among all the No. 4s India have tried since the last World Cup. However, Karthik batted as a finisher in the IPL as well and may not really be considered for the coveted No. 4 spot.
Another option could be Virat Kohli batting at No. 4. This is not a popular option, but Ravi Shastri did mention that if the need arises, the Indian skipper may well drop down a place in the batting order. However, tinkering with the best player’s position may not be effective and may upset the balance and tempo of the side.
India have a lot to ponder about the No. 4 position. The likes of Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya have also batted at No. 4 at different times over the last couple of years, but they will most likely be expected to add firepower down the order at numbers five, six and seven.
It’s not that India don’t have choices; they just need to stick to someone and back them to the fullest. The major problem may be the constant chopping and lack of patience.
India need their No. 4 to be in steady and solid form, because while their top three are all matchwinners, they can’t carry the team all the time, can they? Hence it’s imperative for the No. 4 to lend stability and step up, whoever it is.