CHENNAI : When was the last time India knew who their No 4 was?
If you have to look for a definite answer, then you have to go back to the 2011 World Cup. Virat Kohli, who couldn’t be kept out of the playing XI, was groomed to bat at second drop. Since then, in the 173 matches that have been played, India have flirted with 15 batsmen. They even went into the 2015 World Cup with Ajinkya Rahane at No 4, although few were convinced that he was the right man to do that particular job.
As they get closer to the 2019 World Cup, there is no guarantee over their man for No 4. Ambati Rayudu, who has batted in 10 innings in this slot between 2012-2016, is the latest guinea pig, waiting to be tested in the first clash of the ODI series against West Indies that begins in Guwahati on Sunday.
That India have gone back to Rayudu after failed experiments with Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav should tell you how none of them have been able to make the slot their own.
Not that this has affected the team in any manner. Since the 2011 World Cup, India have had the best win-loss ratio for any team (1.91). The brilliance of their top-three — Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli — has ensured that India have not missed a reliable batsman at No 4.
But when all three have an off day — the 2017 Champions Trophy final being a very pertinent example of that — it can make India’s batting look brittle. Maybe it is easy to label these kinds of instances as occurrences that are few and far between, but for a team that is aspiring to bring back a World Cup, all bases have to be covered.
That India have also brought in Rishabh Pant — set to make his ODI debut on Sunday — is perhaps the closest indication that they are close to fixing their overall middle-order problems. Rayudu, with the experience he brings, is an ideal fit for No 4 than the rest who have been tried. Not only is he a good player of spin, he is also known to manoeuvre gaps, handle pacers adeptly, and if need be, become a stroke-maker who can maintain the momentum that has been built by the top-order.
Captain Kohli, speaking on the eve of the first day/night ODI in Guwahati, acknowledged what Rayudu brings to the table.“The only position that we were trying to figure out for a long time was No 4. We tried many players. They unfortunately could not capitalise and cement it in the way we wanted. We were looking at Rayudu for England. But some guidelines had to be followed, because of which he couldn’t make it.
“He made it to the Asia Cup, and the team felt that he is designed to play that role. So the batting is more or less balanced now, and these 18 games will determine the perfect combination we want for the World Cup. All games together, barring injuries or niggles, we want one combination to play through and through.”By revealing that India are going to give a long rope to Rayudu to cement his place, Kohli has taken the pressure off the right-hander. The No 4 berth is there for the taking, like it has been so far. Over to Rayudu now.