In the ongoing series against Australia, India have already achieved an unassailable lead of 2-0 and are on the brink of a series victory with three games to go. Although India’s batting has done a fantastic job, but they haven’t been able to find a consistent solution for the No. 4 spot.
It is often said – the best batsmen in the team should bat at 3 and 4 in any format.
These are the two most important spots, which demand some serious qualities and sound technique along with versatility. The batsman needs to adapt to the situation quickly and place his innings accordingly. While Virat Kohli has been playing his role to perfection at three, the No. 4 spot has been inconsistent in the recent times.
India have experimented a lot with the number 4 slot, but without any long-term success. To be precise, India have tried as many as 11 batsmen at 4 since the 2015 World Cup. The misfiring No.4 spot has not affected India’s run as other batsmen have got runs along with some stunning performances under the pump.
KL Rahul is an established opening batsman, who has proved his worth in international cricket. He has made his mark in Test cricket, but his spot in the ODI side is yet to be cemented. With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan doing a fine job at the top, KL Rahul needs to adapt himself into a middle-order batsman and transform his game to cement his spot.
Earlier, Kohli backed and out of form Rahul and explained the team’s requirement prior to the Chennai game. He was quoted in a report from PTI saying, “KL (Rahul) is an outstanding talent. He is proved himself in all formats. And he is someone who needs to be backed. Because we believe that he has the ability. Once he gets his role done, he will start winning us games. We are very sure of that. I think, if you look to bat in the position that you bat in one format, in all the formats, then it can get very difficult for the team to find the right kind of balance including that player. So I think players need to adapt to what the team requirement is more often.”
Rahul banks on solid technique to milk runs at the crease. He can anchor an innings, get a solid start as well as accelerate when needed. He has the potential to establish himself as a reliable middle-order batsman, which will strengthen the side.
Rahul’s parched runs column in the ODI series against Sri Lanka saw him lose his place to Manish Pandey in the middle-order. Pandey fared reasonably well in two games, scoring an unbeaten 50 and 36. His success in Sri Lanka helped him get a nod ahead of Rahul against Australia, but Pandey failed to make an impact in two games so far.
At Chennai, India were placed in hot water at 11 for 2 when Pandey walked in to confront a pumped Nathan Coulter-Nile. He had time and India needed to preserve wickets, but Pandey floundered for a duck. This was a perfect opportunity for Pandey to showcase his talent under pressure. At Eden Gardens, he came out when India were comfortably placed at 121 for 2, but he looked tentative and eventually fell prey to Ashton Agar’s persistence for 3. The two contrasting situations that Pandey was faced with in Chennai and Kolkata is usually a solid No. 4 batsman’s staple diet.
There is no doubt regarding Pandey’s ability, he has been a prolific run-scorer in the domestic circuit and certainly deserves a longer run. But, needs to make the opportunities count by garnering big runs under his belt. The selection between Rahul and Pandey will be a difficult one, but Pandey has played most of his cricket in the middle-order, which supports his selection.
Kedar Jadhav at 5 has delivered while MS Dhoni’s presence at 6 only adds solidity. Hardik Pandya has been a sensation to watch as he has improved with every outing. In Jadhav, Dhoni and Pandya at 5, 6 and 7, India have some serious firepower. All they need is a stabilized middle-order.
The World Cup is almost two years away and India will easily play 30-35 ODIs before that. This is the perfect time for someone like Rahul to make amends and ensure that he is on the flight to England as a regular No. 4. In the recent times, India’s middle-order has collapsed more often, further creating more trouble. The only loophole in their batting lies in the middle-order and Rahul could provide a long-term solution to it.
Rahul can take a leaf out of Rahane’s book, who bats in the middle-order in whites and has often oscillated between opening and middle-order against the white ball.
“It takes time, I am not saying it is easy. If you see Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) as well he has played in the middle order in the ODIs, he plays in the middle order in Test matches. He’s also opened a lot in ODIs as well. He also felt that he found it difficult to switch. Now we’re backing Jinks at the top of the order. So he knows the plans are clear,” Kohli added.