For three years now, the Indian cricket team have been craving a batsman at the number 4 position in white-ball cricket who can stabilize the middle order and win games even if the top three batsmen fail. The number four slot is a crucial position in the batting order and requires a versatile batsmen who change gears according to the situation. You can come into bat at 10-2 or 150-2 but your role is equally important as it influences the tempo of the game.
Whether it was the bilateral series going into the World Cup in 2019 or the World Cup itself, the biggest weakness identified by cricketing experts and journalists alike was the number 4 position in the Indian batting order. Over recent years the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have won plenty of games for India with some explosive batting at the top of the order, Rohit Sharma hit 5 hundreds during the World Cup and was the reason for the majority of India’s wins in the tournament.
The problem arises when the top three misfire. As we saw in the semi-final against New Zealand, the top three were shot out for nothing and that put immense pressure on a wobbly middle order. Lacking a quality number 4 batsman who could steady the ship, India collapsed and despite some heroics by Ravindra Jadeja they were knocked out of the World Cup because of one failure by their top order.
Since the World Cup India have chosen Shreyas Iyer as their number four batsman, although initially right after the World Cup he was batting at number 5 on the tour of the West Indies. After stringing together consistent performances he was promoted to number four and after his explosive innings in the first T20 in New Zealand, he has made the position his own.
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The innings against New Zealand was so crucial because Iyer walked into bat after Rahul and Kohli were dismissed in quick succession and despite a solid start by the top order there was still plenty of work to do, with India needing 70 odd runs in 40 odd balls. Normally this is where India struggle as they are so used to Kohli or someone in the top order finishing the game for them, but this time around Iyer put his hand up and played a splendid innings.
It was the first tine Iyer was playing in New Zealand but he showed no fear as he took the attack to the bowlers and played some scintillating shots. He drove off the front foot and cleared long off for six, and when the bowlers bowled short he stood back and pulled the ball over square leg for six. His shot selection was unbelievable and his timing was as crisp as a potato chip.
Even in the recent series against Australia, Iyer made sure he finished off the match in the last ODI to hand India a series victory. The Australian bowlers were attacking him with the short stuff but he cleared his front leg and went for his shots.
With KL Rahul performing at the top and Iyer performing in the middle, Virat Kohli now has a perfect cushion and can play with much more freedom. Iyer has showed that he can counter attack and take the game away from the opposition and finish games off. Now his next task will be when the top order falls early and he has to steady the ship and build an innings. For now he has solved the middle-order mystery, and if he continues this form he will be winning many matches for India in the future.Published 25 Jan 2020, 19:51 IST