India's No. 4 conundrum – The game of musical chairs refuses to end
It becomes a little painful when a problem refuses to get resolved. The No. 4 slot in the Indian limited overs set up has failed to be stabilized over the last few years, and there seems no immediate solution in sight.
Several people have been tried and tested, but to no avail. Is it really such a complex problem? A simple problem can become complex if it is not solved in a structured manner. And that seems to be the problem with India's No. 4 position.
The only time the team seemed close to the light at the end of the tunnel was when Ambati Rayudu had started to find his feet. But a couple of bad outings for him led to him being shown the door.
The timing could not have been worse. The World Cup door bells were ringing, and all of a sudden India found itself amidst the ruckus again.
The team management has certainly not gone about it in an assured manner. Their impatience with some good players has really hit them hard.
Manish Pandey should have been given a longer run. Shreyas Iyer should have at least been given a run. There was no point pushing an opener such as KL Rahul to bat at 4; that is something he is not used to.
The team management should have backed a single individual who showed promise. Rohit Sharma is a classic case of someone who has excelled because of the confidence and trust shown by the team leadership.
Most of the players who had a go at No. 4 have sound technique and have amassed buckets of runs in the domestic arena. Nobody has failed miserably on a consistent basis. Most of them were getting starts but were failing to convert them into big ones.
The problem was not a disastrous one. It could have been rectified.
After the World Cup, the team management has again shown trust in Rahul and Rishabh Pant. But they do not have too much evidence to bank on either of these players at #4.
The biggest trick that India missed was not pushing MS Dhoni out at the much-debated position. They tried to provide the lineup a stable back-up option down the order, and no player is more stable than Dhoni. But this may not have been the best decision in hindsight.
What is the point of having Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav, if Dhoni has to provide backup to both of them? It was a case of unnecessarily padding up a few slots, which only resulted in making things worse. The World Cup semi-final is a classic example of that.
The team management need to learn from their mistakes. However, they are committing the same mistake over and over again.
You've got to give a tried and tested middle order batsman like Iyer or Pandey a longer run in order to cement the #4 slot. Otherwise, the game of musical chairs will never stop.
The day the top 3 fail, there will continue to be huge pressure on the folks lower down the order. The No. 3 and No. 4 batsmen form the backbone of the lineup, and their role is to see through the middle overs and keep the scoreboard ticking. Unfortunately for India, only their No. 3 has been doing that consistently over the last few years.