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High time India fix their No. 4 and 5 in ODIs

Last updated on 01 Feb 2022 | 10:11 AM
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High time India fix their No. 4 and 5 in ODIs

Here, we look at all the ideal options India have for these two spots

When it comes to One-Day International cricket, India need to fix their No. 4 and 5 as soon as possible and give those two-three batters a long run ahead of the 2023 World Cup. The Men in Blue have way too many options for the top-order (1-3), but for now, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are most likely going to be India’s top-three in the showpiece event. Meanwhile, the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Venkatesh Iyer, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar are going to form India’s lower-middle order. However, we are still not sure who is going to bat at No. 4 and 5, something that India struggled with even in the 2019 World Cup.

India have used Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey and Kohli in these two positions since the last World Cup and it’s most probably going to be two of the former four taking these two crucial spots in the 50-over format. India’s new white-ball captain Rohit and head coach Rahul Dravid are very secure individuals and don’t like to chop and change on a consistent basis, which is exactly what India’s middle-order needs at the moment. 

The failure of the middle-order was one of the key reasons why India received a 3-0 thumping in South Africa. India failed to chase down targets of 297 and 288 against South Africa despite getting solid starts in both encounters. "We certainly could do better in the middle overs. If I think back to the 30th over (of the second innings) in both these games, we should have actually chased them down. We didn't because we played some poor shots and we didn't play smart cricket at critical situations," said Dravid after the series defeat. 

The likes of Rahul, Pant, Iyer and Suryakumar have done well in the middle-order since the last World Cup and all of them have a strike rate of more than 100. However, in the absence of Rohit, the team management made a strange call of opening the innings with Rahul in South Africa and the plan didn’t quite work out as India lacked solidity in the middle-order. Rohit and his men will now be involved in a three-match ODI series against West Indies, and the team management will be eager to solve the middle-order conundrum before it gets too late.

Now, let us look at all the ideal options India have for No. 4 and 5.

KL Rahul

Rahul opening the innings in the 50-over format - as has been the case recently when either one of Dhawan or Rohit has been unavailable - does more harm than good for India. The stylish right-hander from Karnataka feels more secure while opening the innings and will surely score a lot of runs, but India need him at No. 5. India have a fixed top-order, and with Pant’s inconsistency, the team management tried Rahul at No. 5 and the move turned out to be quite successful. In nine innings at the particular spot, Rahul has smashed 446 runs at an average of 63.71 and a strike rate of 114.4. Since the 2019 World Cup, no other batter has a better strike rate than Rahul at that spot.   

As an opener, in this period, Rahul has scored 280 runs in seven innings at a mediocre strike rate of 82.1. Both Rohit and Dhawan have way better numbers than Rahul, and on top of that, India have openers like Ruturaj Gaikwad, Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal waiting in the wings. In the middle-order, Rahul has looked very assured and is clearly the right man you would want batting in the middle and death overs. Rahul batting at five solved one of the biggest issues for India in ODIs and he should get as many games as possible at that position. 

Rishabh Pant

No other Indian batter draws out more emotions than Pant. Just look at his last two innings and you will know what we are talking about. The wicketkeeper-batter smoked 85 off 71 deliveries in the second ODI in Paarl, and in the very next game, got out for a golden duck while playing a “needless” shot off the very first ball he faced. Well, that’s Rishabh Pant for you. Let’s get one thing straight, the 24-year-old is an outright match-winner and could prove to be a wild card, especially on the flat-batting surfaces in India. The left-handed dasher has been around for quite some time now but has only played 21 ODIs, compared to 28 Tests and 41 T20Is. There’s no doubt that Pant looks more assured in the latter two formats, but with the right combination and enough depth in the batting line-up, India could simply use him as an enforcer in ODIs.

For example, India had Shardul Thakur batting at No. 7 in the series against South Africa and that’s when you can’t have your No. 4 operating the way Pant does. However, once Ravindra Jadeja returns from his injury and if India can find a way to slot in Thakur and Deepak Chahar at 8 and 9, it will give Pant the licence to do what he does best, that is to wreak havoc in the middle and death overs. The sample size is not great but Pant has better numbers batting at 5 than at 4, and if and when needed, India can always keep swapping Pant and Rahul depending on the situation and left-right combination. Pant is only 24 and could use the next 20-odd months to find the right tempo between being fearless and being careless, and if he could do that, the wicketkeeper-batter could turn out to be India’s biggest game-changer in the next World Cup.

Shreyas Iyer

After messing up for a couple of years, the Men in Blue finally tried Iyer at No. 4 and the right-hander from Mumbai looked like the missing piece in the team’s middle-order puzzle. Batting at No. 4, Iyer played crucial knocks of 103, 52 and 62 in New Zealand and it felt like India had finally got their middle-order sorted. However, the 27-year-old had to miss the home series against England at home due to an injury and that’s when the combination of Pant and Rahul started clicking at 4 and 5. As his record suggests, Iyer is more suited to batting in the top 4 but had to bat one spot below against South Africa, which neither worked out for him nor the team.

Now that Rohit is back for the West Indies series, and with Dhawan showing no signs of slowing down, Rahul will drop to No. 5 and it’s most likely going to be Iyer who will have to sit out. On top of that, Iyer has only managed 119 runs in his last seven innings, while Pant has three 70-plus scores in his last five ODIs. India would want to go with at least six bowling options in every game, and even with his part-time legspin, there’s no point playing Iyer below four in the batting order. The only way Iyer can get into the XI is if Pant fails to do the job at No. 4 and India decide to give the gloves to Rahul. For now, Iyer has fallen behind Pant and Rahul in the pecking order, and then there’s someone like Suryakumar waiting to pounce on any opportunity that comes his way.

Suryakumar Yadav

As a viewer, you would want Suryakumar playing every single white-ball game for India. Every time he walks out to bat, the flamboyant right-handed batter looks like a million bucks. He is as versatile as they come. The 31-year-old can bat anywhere in the batting order and can take the attack to any opposition from the word go. In his last 50 List-A encounters, Suryakumar has slammed 1647 runs at an average of 45.75 and he has done that at an astonishing strike rate of 122. He has only featured in four ODIs but has scores of 31*, 53, 40 and 39, all at a strike rate of more than 100.

Not only does he possess outrageous dynamism, but he is also experienced and is a batter at the very top of his game. Crucially, he is someone who is genuinely adept at playing spin. He brings to the fore a package that is unique. Yes, he should be playing every single game but it’s not going to be easy for the team management to fit him in the playing XI. The scenario is no different, India don’t have anyone in the top 5 who can chip in with a couple of overs. Both Iyer (legspin) and Suryakumar (offspin) can roll their arms over but are not qualified enough to be treated as the sixth bowling option. However, once Jadeja comes back, Iyer and Suryakumar could combine to give India four-five overs every game, but for that to happen, both of them have to be part of India’s XI, which will need some chopping and changing.

Other options

For now, Pant and Rahul are the incumbents for these two spots in a full-strength side, with Iyer and Suryakumar are next in line. However, there are some other players who could also get into the mix. If Pant continues to be inconsistent in this format, India could try out someone like Ishan Kishan. The left-handed wicketkeeper-batter from Jharkhand can take down any bowling attack on his day and is flexible enough to bat anywhere in the batting order. 

India have also included Deepak Hooda in their ODI squad for the West Indies and it’s mostly because he is a handy offspinner too. The 26-year-old has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket and if he can somehow manage to seal that No. 5 spot for himself, the Men in Blue will finally have someone who can bowl in their top-five. Then there is Sanju Samson but the wicketkeeper-batter from Kerala has simply not been consistent enough to become a regular member in the Indian set-up.

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