“India are far from solving their No. 4 conundrum and the mystery surrounding it continues”
The World Cup is just a couple of months away and India have just a couple more ODIs before they break off for a short break and then the Indian Premier League (IPL). While the ‘Men in Blue’ has done really well, there are a few minor loopholes to plug in, none bigger than the No. 4 conundrum.
There’s been a constant question over the last couple of years. Who is India’s No. 4 in ODI cricket? Ever since the 2015 World Cup, change has been the only constant at that spot for India. In fact, India lie seventh on the list of best averages by No. 4 batsmen (team-wise) in the aforementioned period. The Indian No. 4 batsmen collectively average 37.90 and have a strike-rate of 84.02. The likes of New Zealand, England and South Africa not only have a better average but also have a better strike-rate. Hence, a lot of the No. 4s there are game-changers.
No player has cemented his spot, neither has any player instilled the confidence. Every time a player gets a few runs at that coveted No. 4 position, there’s arises a lot of buzz around that player. But there’s absolutely no consistency. Only three players have scored a century batting at that spot over the last four years.
Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Shreyas Iyer, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik and the list goes on. Eleven players have been tried at that position since the 2015 World Cup but no player has made the slot his own. Every time a player gets a couple of decent scores, it’s combined with a few failures which result in his axing.
A year ago, Ajinkya Rahane was India’s No. 4. Four months later, it was KL Rahul. Six months ago, Ambati Rayudu was picked for the Asia Cup and batted at No. 3 in the absence of Virat Kohli. Some decent performances earned him a place in the series against West Indies at home in October 2018. He was designated to bat at No. 4 and also earned high praise from skipper Virat Kohli ahead of the series. He didn’t disappoint. He scored a ton and a fifty, instilling some sort of confidence in the team management.
Cut it to March 2019, Ambati has blown hot and cold, just like his predecessors’ did at that spot. He came back with a bang. 175 runs at an average of 43.75 in the Asia Cup, 217 runs at 72.33 against Windies. It certainly looked like India’s No. 4 conundrum might be coming to an end. But ever since 2018 turned to 2019, Rayudu has been under the pump.
He was found out in Australia and was dropped for the final ODI. He could muster a mere 24 runs in two innings and struggled big time. He had a couple of decent games in New Zealand before he got that 90 after India were four-down for 18 in the fifth ODI. But once he was back in India, he was once again found out against Australia.
He has made just 33 runs in three innings and his strike-rate is even worse (55.93). Scores of 13, 18 and 2 and dismissed off different types of bowlers in each of the innings. In fact, the Hyderabad batsman doesn’t have great returns against top teams. He averages 31.71 and has a strike-rate of 72.15 against the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) nations and Pakistan and Bangladesh. Against the other teams, he has scored more runs in lesser innings and averages 68.53 against the likes of Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe and others.
Hence, the question is how long will India stick with Rayudu? Barring that 90 he made against the Kiwis, he hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence this year. But the question also arises, who is next in line? Vijay Shankar seems to be a popular choice. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder has done well in the limited chances he’s got. He has scores of 45, 46 and 32 (latest) in the three innings he’s walked out to bat. Hence, he might not be a bad choice. He offers that bowling option as well and could be really handy at No. 4. There’s another alternative of playing MS Dhoni at No. 4 which will give him time to settle and set the pace of the innings.
The question will also be another question. Will India want to tweak their combination so close to the World Cup? One after the other, players come in and walk out of the team after some flashes of brilliance. When Manish Pandey struck that magnificent ton at the SCG in 2016, it seemed like the conundrum is solved. But it’s been over three years since that knock, nothing has changed.
India are far from solving their No. 4 conundrum and the mystery surrounding it continues. Yuvraj came back and rolled back the clock for a couple of games before once again fading away. Ajinkya Rahane blew hot and cold, Shreyas Iyer never got a lot of opportunities.
The top three have been magnificent for India and have won them most of the games in limited-overs cricket. But they can’t do it every day and every time. The middle-order and No. 4, in particular, needs to contribute consistently. No. 4 is the glue between the top and the middle-order. He should have the ability to come in at 20/2 and 200/2 and still be effective. India did find some players who could do the job but the consistency wasn’t there.
While India have done really well to solve the bowling, spin conundrum to be precise over the last couple of years, the No. 4 still remains a mystery. Who will add the final puzzle to the jigsaw in the World Cup in England later will be very interesting to see?