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The number 4 conundrum for Team India

The “number 4” debacle has been pondered over for several years and just as you think, the team has found an answer, new dilemmas start.

Ritik Goel
Last updated: 14.04.2019
Number in Indian team in Cricket World Cup 2019 | Sports Social Blog

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Indian cricket has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years and the fearless brand of cricket that the Indians play under Virat Kohli make them the world beaters. Indian cricket has always been blessed with skilled as well as graceful batsmen. It has produced several batsmen who are worshipped in the cricketing circle and it continues to gift more and more marvelous batsmen to world cricket. For a nation with such immense batting talent, it is astonishing to see that it has failed to nail down a covert batting position in the team for quite some time now.


The “number 4” debacle has been pondered over for several years and just as you think, the team has found an answer, new dilemmas start to pop up and spark new debates. The recently concluded One-Day International series between India and Australia was supposed to be a ‘’laboratory’’ series for the Indian team where they could try a few experiments. However, as it turned out, the Australians rose from the ashes to script history while the Indians were left with more questions than answers post the conclusion of the thrilling series.


There is a famous saying, “too many cooks spoil the food.” The Indian fans brag of the team having a good headache because the team has to decide about the players to be left out rather than the players to be picked up. But this problem of plenty is coming back to haunt the Indians.

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The middle order woes have arisen only in the last few years. Although it has underperformed or performed inconsistently, the top-3 batsmen have actually been “babysitting” the rest of the line-up which has not allowed the middle-order to win games consistently.


CONTRIBUTIONS OF TOP-3 TO THE OVERALL SCORES (FROM THE 2015 CRICKET WORLD CUP TO THE END OF NEW ZEALAND V/S INDIA 2019)




Team

No. of ODIs

No. of Runs

Total runs by team

Top-3’s percentage of runs

India

59

9,076

14,620

62.08

England

58

7,039

14,918

47.18

South Africa

53

6,832

12,883

53.03

New Zealand

57

6,790

13,626

49.83

Australia

55

6,712

12,974

51.73

Sri Lanka

64

6,150

13,457

45.70

Pakistan

52

5,782

12,202

47.39


Zimbabwe

57

4,609

10,357

44.50

Bangladesh

40

4,133

8,558

48.29

Afghanistan

40

3,524

7,789

45.24

Ireland

34

3,349

6,528

51.30

West Indies

39

2,736

7,211

37.94



CONSISTENCY OF THE INDIAN TOP-3 ((FROM THE 2015 CRICKET WORLD CUP TO THE END OF NEW ZEALAND V/S INDIA 2019)



Player

ODI inningses

Scores below 25

Ducks

Inngs/sub-25 score

Rohit Sharma

45

23

3

1.95

Shikhar Dhawan

41

18

1

2.27

Virat Kohli

50

17

2

2.94



Moreover, the conversion rates of the India top-3 that is, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been the best among all the top-3 in World cricket. If the top-3 win you majority of the games most times, then the middle order is bound to struggle when the top-3 fail together.


THE MIDDLE ORDER PERFORMANCES OF THE INDIAN TEAM POST THE CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2017



Period

Runs Scored

Average

Strike Rate

50+ scores

Between Champions trophy 2017 and Asia Cup 2018

2070

33.9

79.2

12

Post Asia Cup 2018

1395

43.6

88.5

9



Clearly, middle order has failed to replicate the performances of the top-3. It will not be wrong to say that middle order revolves more or less around the number 4 batsmen. He must possess an all-round game. He must have the temperament to steady the ship after a top-order collapse as well the as the power-game to make most of the platform set by the top-order. Indian team management has been pretty impatient with several batsmen. The captain and the think-tank have chopped and changed persistently which has not helped their cause. Several batsmen have been tried at number 4 post the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Let’s have a look at a few of those performers.


Players have been dropped after a solitary series which has lead to raised eyebrows. The likes of Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Ajinkya Rahane were nowhere to be seen after they were dropped.


All said and done, 2019 did bring a new ray of hope for the Indian team management as the middle order showed signs of success. India’s top order collapses in the series in 2019 have been a blessing in disguise as it has allowed the middle order batters to have time in the middle.


Since the team selection for the World Cup is around the corner, let’s have a look at 4 possible contenders for the number 4 spot in the blockbuster tournament:


1. Ambati Rayudu


It is hard to understand the curious case of Rayudu. On the back of a stupendous performance in the IPL 2018, he forced his way back into the Indian team and won the skipper’s confidence after he struck a blazing century against the West Indies which turned out to be the first century by a batsman batting below number 3 for India in 2 years. He followed that up with a promising Asia Cup. However, after that, he has experienced a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Kohli was impressed with his ability to rotate strike while playing spin and change gears when required. However, against quality fast bowlers, he has been found wanting at times. His wealth of experience might give him an edge because he played an innings full of temperament and class against New Zealand at Wellington. Scoring a match-winning 90, he took India to 250 odd from 18/4.


However, he has failed to be utterly consistent. After a decent show against the blackcaps in their own backyard, he had to deal with three back-to-back failures in the home series against Australia following which he was dropped for the next two games. He has been in the firing line for giving up domestic cricket despite having very less amount of match practice under his belt.


However, India has been investing in him for some time now and he has given decent returns. So, who knows, he may still make the cut for the World Cup.


2) Vijay Shankar


It is funny to realize where life takes you sometimes. If Hardik Pandya had not been banned owing to controversy on a TV show, we would not have been talking about Vijay Shankar. It might have been a blessing in disguise for him. In the game against New Zealand where Rayudu scored 90, he scored 46 himself to lead the recovery and did not look troubled by the tough conditions at all. He has the technique and the skill to succeed at the highest level. However, it is about temperament and mindset at the same time at the highest level. He got the 30s and 40s throughout the home series against Australia and the T20 series against New Zealand where he was promoted to number 3 but he is yet to take his side over the line.


Though he is not a regular bowler, he did bowl a match-winning last over in one of the games against Australia. After the likes of Ganguly and Tendulkar have retired, none of India’s top 5 bowls. So if Shankar bats at 4 and offers a few decent overs of seam-up, it will be an absolute bonus for team India. Not only is he a gun fielder, but he also has all the shots in the book against spinners as well as the fast bowlers. So, it remains to be seen whether the lanky all-rounder is considered for the extravaganza in the UK.


3) Mahendra Singh Dhoni


Sometimes, you are forced to think that if a team has one of the greatest middle-order batters and arguably the greatest ever finisher in ODI cricket in its ranks, why is it struggling with the number 4 spot?


MS Dhoni is lightning behind the stumps, brings the match-winner out of the youngsters and offers valuable inputs to the captain Virat Kohli. However, his batting takes him to a different level. If a lower-order batsman outclasses and outscores some exceptional top-order batsmen, you know that he is special. However, amidst all that, he had his worst year with the bat in 2018 where he averaged just 25 compared to his career average of 51. He does not have the same power and six-hitting ability as he used to have and it happens with everyone as people go through the ravages of time. But he did have an exceptional start to 2019 with a man-of-the-series display down under. He might not be as active against spinners these days but he is one you look forward to if there is a collapse. He is a master of pressure situations and he still finishes games off better than most in the world.


Though Rohit Sharma wanted him to bat at 4, Kohli thinks that 5 is a better position for him. So, it will be interesting to see if the Indians approach the senior-pro to anchor the middle order.


4. KL Rahul


KL Rahul might seem to be a strange option because he has hardly batted in the middle-order. However, no one needs to be told that he is an epitome of talent. He oozes class and his conventional strokeplay is a treat to the eyes. He has played just 14 ODIs for India. So he does not have a lot to show. After a dream IPL season last year, he tapered off. He played one great inning in the last test against England at the Oval but absolutely nothing on either side of it. However, Virat and team management have consistently backing him reiterates the fact that they rate him very highly.


After getting banned for a couple of series down-under owing to controversy, he came back and batted really well in the T20Is against Australia at home. Strangely, he did not play the ODIs after that. So, it might be a little risky to select him for the World Cup on the basis of just T20 form. Although he may be selected as a back-up opener after his consistent performances in the IPL 2019, he may also be considered as a middle-order option.


While for Rishabh Pant who has failed to make the most of his opportunities, a world cup spot looks difficult, the dark horses like Shubhman Gill or Prithvi Shaw have to wait for their chances. Their chances are unlikely but not impossible for this tournament.


You don’t want arguably the greatest number 3 ODI batsmen ever, Virat Kohli to push down to 4 like he’s been looking to do. If he bats at 3, he will win games single-handedly. The Chief-selector MSK Prasad said that they are more or less clear about their combinations and IPL performances may not be considered for the selection. So, it will be very interesting to see who will be handed over the responsibility of solving the number 4 conundrum on 15th April 2019.


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