India’s Number 4 Dilemma: Options Available to Kohli Ahead of WC
In the last two years, Manish Pandey, Rahane, Dhoni, Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik have batted at the number four position.
With two successive ODI series away from home, Team India looks right on track ahead of the World Cup this year in England.
The bowling line-up never looked better. The top three in batting – Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and skipper Virat Kohli – mean business as usual. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is back among runs and everything augurs well for the Indian unit.
But the captain would love his side to be perfect, just like his cricket record and his fitness. So, in this regard if something needs to be taken care of, with less than six months away from the World Cup, it has to be the much-debated number four position in the batting line-up.
The Indian side has been in doldrums since the last two years with this dilemma. More than five batsmen have been tried at that batting position, but a permanent solution has eluded the side.
Now, with only a handful of matches left before the World Cup, it seems like this time the management have some answers up their sleeves.
“If you look at the last five games (two in Australia and three here), I have said that No. 4 is a position that we are looking to solidify but when (Ambati) Rayudu starts playing like that, you start feeling more confident about the batting line-up,” said Virat Kohli after wrapping up the series against New Zealand in the third ODI.
When your captain is saying such things about you, it is a clear indication that the scales are tipped heavily in your favour.
Since the Asia Cup, Ambati Rayudu has become a regular feature in the Indian ODI batting line-up. After not playing a single match for India in 2017 and first half of 2018, the last edition of the Indian Premier League was a game-changer for Rayudu.
In the 16 ODIs he has played since his comeback, Rayudu has batted at the number four position in eight of them, scoring 341 runs at an average of 56.83. In these eight innings he scored a solitary century against Windies at home.
In a career of 45 ODIs for India, Rayudu has batted at the number four position maximum times. In 19 innings he has scored 627 runs at an average of 48.23 with four half centuries and a hundred.
Rayudu scored a 63 not out on debut for India while coming out to bat at the number four position.
So, Rayudu’s adaptability makes a strong case as far as batting at number four is concerned. After a disastrous Australia series, the New Zealand series has just reassured his place at the number four position. The maturity with which Rayudu steered the innings in the third ODI against New Zealand repaid the faith that the team management has shown in him.
But the Indian camp would still like him to get some big knocks under his belt in the remaining ODIs against New Zealand and the upcoming five-match ODI series against Australia back home.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Dhoni has the second-best average in his career while batting at the number four position. In the last few years, Dhoni has faced criticism for taking some time to settle in, consuming more deliveries in the process. Number four gives him enough opportunity and he can take the liberty to play at a strike rate of less than 100.
Dhoni is indispensable and he will surely be on the flight to England. So, instead of wasting him at the number six position, he should be given the opportunity to face more deliveries and justify his batting prowess. It is a win-win situation for both the parties.
In the ODI series against Australia, Dhoni was a revelation with the bat. He was back to his usual self.
Though captain Kohli believes Dhoni is best suited for the number five position, it won’t be a surprise if he is promoted ahead of the World Cup.
Dhoni has batted at the number four position in 30 innings scoring 1,358 runs at an average of 56.38, which is his second-highest average batting at any position. He has a strike rate of over 90 at this position.
In the recently concluded ODI series against Australia, Dhoni came out to bat at the number four position once and at number five twice. At the end of the series he was adjudged the man-of-the series with scores of 51, 55 not out and 87 not out. He finished the series with 193 runs at a bumper average of 193.00.
Despite MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu’s close fight for the coveted number four position, Dinesh Karthik will always continue to make a serious claim for the spot.
Since his return to the Indian ODI side, he has been the designated floater who has batted at all positions starting from number three to number seven.
In the last two years, he has batted at number three once, number four eight times, number five three times, number six two times and number seven once. Clearly, number four is one of his favourite positions.
With Karthik playing a more dynamic role of batting in the middle-order as well ensuring good finishing, the side would like to have him as a fall-back option – both as a keeper and even at number four.
The eight times he has batted at number four from 2017, Karthik has amassed 264 runs at an average of 66.00 with two half-centuries. This numbers look remarkable if compared with his career average of 38.73 at the number four position.
In total, he has batted at the same position eighteen times scoring 426 runs.
Rahul may not be having a great time on and off the field but that doesn’t mean he is completely out of contention for a World Cup berth.
The weakest contender for the number four spot, KL Rahul, has played only four matches at the position.
If included in the squad for the World Cup, Rahul might be brought in at the number four position, and with his talent and calibre with the bat he might just end up justifying the decision.
With Rahul’s preferred position at the top of the order reserved for Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, and Kohli coming in at number three, the Karnataka batsman might find his mojo back at the number four position.
It wasn’t long back when the Indian camp was looking at Manish Pandey to fill the vacant spot at number four in the batting line-up. After scoring a century in his third ODI, Manish Pandey kind of fizzled out. In the next 15 innings he managed a lone half-century.
The eight times he batted at the number four position, he managed only 183 runs at a mediocre average of 36.60 which is close to his career average of 36.66. The only century he scored in ODIs was while he was batting at the number four position.
With him scoring a hundred for India A against New Zealand A recently, Pandey might just get back in the scheme of things if the team management is looking for more options.
Apart from Pandey, the new kid Shubman Gill, who is yet to make his senior team debut, might get an opportunity to bat at number four in the World Cup.
With Kohli not available for the rest of the ODI series against New Zealand, Shubman might get a chance to make his debut. And if he carries on his domestic form and makes the best use of the opportunity, the think tank wouldn’t mind repeating him for the ODIs against Australia. After that it will be upto Shubman and his batting prowess, which might fast-track his career.
(This article was written before the fourth ODI between India and New Zealand on Thursday, 31 January 2019.)
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