Rahane or Pujara: Possible solutions to India's No.4 conundrum?
If you recall team India’s triumph at the ICC World Cup 2011, there’s an interesting fact that has not to be forgotten. It is how settled and organised Team India’s batting unit was, at least back then, especially throughout the course of the glamorous event.
Other than the forced injury-change where Virender Sehwag had to warm the benches against the West Indies, India just had to make a solitary change in their batting unit when they had no other option but to replace under-performing Yusuf Pathan with Suresh Raina at No.7 in the quarter-finals against Australia.
Other than that, India’s batting looked seemingly relentless and at the same time, stable throughout the World Cup. The admirable batting unit, which was closely knit-together, gave us an impression as if each player was tailor-made for the position they were batting in and knew exactly what their responsibilities were, the term horses for courses perfectly suited the bill.
The fact that India were co-hosts themselves helped immensely, but, that does not take away anything from the domineering display of batsmanship they put on exhibition throughout the World Cup.
Comparing the batting unit that India has today to 2011’s batting unit, there’s broad daylight not only in terms of skills but also in terms of consistency. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and then that’s it, everything about batting after India’s No. 3 is fragile and unpredictable.
In spite of trying innumerable folks at No. 4 post ICC World Cup 2015, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, just to name a few, India’s eternal struggle for an ideal No. 4 hasn’t just materialised yet. And with under three months to go before the cricket carnival begins, India appear to be skeptical about the worth of their available choices too.
In an interesting comment made by Ajay Jadeja, India’s or any team’s No.4 for that matter, should be the one who can arrest a team’s slide if he is needed to, walking out to bat, say at 20/2, providing team the stability and dressing room with the much-needed comfort.
The person batting at No.4 is like a bridge connecting top order to the lower middle order and is a team’s spine as far as batting is concerned. Eoin Morgan, England’s ODI skipper who also bats at No.4 is a perfect example of an almost ideal at the position.
In this context, with the World Cup being held in UK, it becomes ever so important for India to play with an au fait batsman, whom they can trust and the one who can deliver, especially, in the situation of crises.
Considering the flimsy situation of India’s lower middle-order, it might be safe to think of having either Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara to bat at No.4, at least as per my perspective. I know, this might raise a few eye-brows, one can call this move like taking a step backward, but, after all, what’s at stake is far too precious and it’s a gamble worth taking if India wants to fancy their chances at the World Cup later this year.
Let’s take a brief look at these two options which certainly can solve India’s impending No.4 enigma at the World Cup.
#1 Ajinkya Rahane
India’s Test vice-captain, who batted at No.4 for India in the last World Cup, has a decent record in ODI cricket. He may not be as influential as one would like in today’s world, but certainly has all the ingredients to make that spot his own, at least as far as upcoming World Cup is concerned.
The only apparent dent in his ODI record or in his overall career at the top level for that matter is his lack of consistency. However, to be fair to him, his batting positions were always chopped and changed and as a team player that he is, he had no other option, but, to follow an approach that best suited the team. In the midst of these, however, he failed to perform up to his expectations and bore the brunt of getting dropped from the team.
In spite of this, he is an ideal batsman to occupy the all-crucial No.4 spot for India, so as to arrest the occasional collapses that come across and provide the team with necessary impetus.
One thing is guaranteed, if India find themselves in a disastrous situation and if Rahane is still around, he will more often than not bail you out of that precarious situation and at that moment, you would consider yourself extremely lucky to have a batsman like Rahane, controlling a game, playing at No.4 for your team.
Performances in the upcoming IPL may not be a factor for the selectors to analyse the permutations and combinations before they finally put together a team, but, certainly provides an opportunity not only to selectors but also to players themselves to go through a reality check for one final time before they head in to the World Cup.
Thus, Ajinkya Rahane’s performance in the IPL, becomes a pivotal factor, if he stands any chance of boarding that flight to UK later this May.
As stated earlier, this might be a surprise selection, raising a lot of eyebrows and lot of questions, but it is debatable as to why this alternative wasn’t even experimented before the World Cup?
Considering India’s turmoil with the bat following India skipper’s No.3 spot and with Pujara being in rich vein of form since the Test series Down Under, the Saurashtra lad at least deserved a second chance in ODI cricket.
Going by our ideology to pick a top No.4 batsman, who can go out to bat in desperate times and is capable enough of pulling off sensible knocks when under the punch, Pujara perfectly fits the bill. His solid temperament and calm demeanour can strike a perfect balance between an aggressive top-order and a fragile middle-order.
Thus, for Team India to have a positive and realistic chance at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, where the pitches can be tricky and conditions a bit alien, they must look forward to sort out all the impending issues with their batting line-up and having a senior pro like Rahane or Pujara to bat at No.4 certainly can be a good head start in solving India’s syndrome with the bat, aptly counter balancing dicey middle-order.