It has become a national debate. There could be a movie made out of it. India’s No.4 merry-go-round in ODI cricket has become one of the side’s biggest talking points.
That coveted spot came back to haunt them in the World Cup, as four different players featued there, while 13 players have been tried there in the last four years.
Two years back, it was Yuvraj Singh. However, after the Champions Trophy and the West Indies tour, India went to KL Rahul and Manish Pandey.
In South Africa, Ajinkya Rahane was the man and he did well. Virat Kohli spoke highly of him and the variety he brought to the side. However, six months later, Rahul was back, but given just two chances before being done away with.
Ambati Rayudu was supposedly ideal and played a couple of good knocks in pressure situations in the lead-up to the World Cup. However, by the time the tournament arrived, his time was up too.
Vijay Shankar was the selectors’ choice and the ‘three dimensional’ debate was underway.
A minor injury ahead of the first practice game and a failure in the second brought Rahul into the fray once again. The Karnataka lad scored a ton in a warm-up against Bangladesh and his stocks went up. However, he played just one game against South Africa at that slot before Shikhar Dhawan was injured and he had to move to the top of the order.
Enter Shankar, who played a couple of knocks before getting injured, but he might’ve been dropped anyway considering the way he threw away starts.
Rishabh Pant then played four games at the business end of the tournament and looked good every time – until he threw his wicket away.
Middle-order woes were one of the reasons for India’s heartbreaking loss in the semi-final and it was expected the side would give someone longer rope to build towards the 2023 World Cup.
Rishabh Pant (AP Photo/David Rowland)
Yet the merry-go-round hasn’t stopped.
Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey earned recalls after their impressive performances in the IPL and domestic cricket. Rahul was present and the incumbent No.4, as he started the World Cup at that slot.
However, despite not doing anything wrong and getting just one opportunity, Rahul went back to be a backup opener.
Iyer, who has played just six ODIs before and didn’t do too badly, got another chance. However, the first ODI was washed out and when skipper Kohli was asked at the toss during the second match about the order, he zeroed in on Pant for the most-talked-about spot.
“We are backing Rishabh to still bat at four and Shreyas Iyer will bat at five,” the captain said.
Kohli also said that numbers four and five are floating positions and it will depend on the situation who bats where.
Does that mean Pant will come in if India get a good start and Iyer if they lose a couple of early wickets? India’s top three have been brilliant – as consistent as anybody over the last few years.
When they fail though, they do so collectively, as happened in the World Cup. So who is the man for that situation? Iyer? Pant?
Moreover, Iyer is certainly not a five, having failed in the few innings he’s played there. But he succeeded in this second ODI game against West Indies.
However, the middle order often crumbles once they lose their set batsmen towards the death – and No.4 has been at the forefront of those concerns.
One solution could be breaking the famed top three. Yes, they’ve been superb together but they crumble together.
The most ideally suited to bat at four seems Kohli. Yes, he is perhaps the best first drop in world cricket, but it could be India’s long-term solution.
They could give someone like Iyer or even Shubman Gill a chance at three to ease into the side. In fact, both Gill and Iyer have batted in the top three for most of their careers in domestic cricket.
Kohli can come in at two for 20-odd, arrest the slide and control the innings. He can even come once the platform is set and continue in the same vein. He’s been talking a lot about how he is happy to let others revolve around him and play their natural game.
However, that doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment as Kohli continues to churn out runs for fun at three. He struck his 42nd ODI ton while Pant wasted another opportunity at four, scratching around for 35 balls to score 20 before he was bowled.
Iyer came in at five and scored a solid half-century and now has made a strong case for No.4.
Thus, with Pant failing and Iyer coming back strongly, will the musical chairs continue? For how long will Pant be backed at four?