Opinion: Why the issues regarding India's No. 4 position might be bigger than imagined
Has Virat Kohli unearthed some new issues with team lineup over the last week in the ODI series against West Indies?
The team which seemed to have ticked all the boxes now has concerns regarding the team balance in the absence of allrounders now. The middle order batting has been a worry for some time with no one being able to cement their sport at number four and six. The bowlers struggled as well, conceding 320 plus in the first two matches of the West Indies series.
India brought back the frontline bowlers Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah to the side to strengthen bowling. However, West Indies managed 50 plus runs for the ninth wicket partnership in the death overs.
Is India short of players with secondary skills such as bowlers who can bat well and batsmen who are handy bowlers? In the past, players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, or Suresh Raina were capable of pitching in with their part-time bowling. The current team had Hardik Pandy and Kedhar Jadhav who are in the same category, but, can't consider them for the ten over spell.
In the third ODI against West Indies, India went with five genuine bowlers in the squad as their six batsmen are not even part-time bowlers anymore. With Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant are not contributing with the ball, the allrounder who can bowl ten over spell has become mandatory.
B Kumar, Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav as the frontline bowlers, India fifth bowling options have to be taken up by Kedhar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja or Hardik Pandya (once he is back from injuries). None of them regularly bowls ten overs spell. Kedhar Jadhav's fielding has been a worry for the management and he may not likely to bowl ten overs in every game. Jadeja has just made his come back to the ODI side, and the inconsistencies with the bat will raise the question of including him as the lone all-rounder.
India has to drop one of their genuine bowlers to accommodate a bowler who can bat or a batsman who can bowl. However, the issue still exists if the replacement can't deliver ten overs. India may tempt to include two all-rounders to do the fifth bowler's job, but only at the expense of Rayudu, MS Dhoni or Rishabh Pant. Will Kohli think about dropping one of them?
Kohli believes Rayudu is the solution for their experiment at number four. If Kohli thinks of playing two allrounders, then it's between MS Dhoni and Pant for the remaining slot. India's T20 squad is already without MS Dhoni for the next series against West Indies and Australia. Will they drop him from ODI squad to bring in the balance? It's a puzzle for Kohli and management to solve for the time being.
If team balance is the most annoying thing for the Indian team at the moment, the middle order batting has been worrying them for a while. Over the last few series, Dhawan, Rohit, and Kohli did the bulk of the scoring for India. The trio has been consistent in white ball cricket except Dhawan failing to convert his starts into big scores in the last few innings.
The middle order was not tested in most games, and, whenever there was an opportunity, they failed. Rishabh Pant and Rayudu are settling down to their new roles in the team and MS Dhoni's struggle with the bat continues which make the middle order batting unstable for India.
India may have to find out an allrounder who can bowl the full quota in ODIs, or, Sharma and Kohli may have to roll their arms to pitch in with 5-6 overs to support one of the allrounders in the team. It will be interesting to find out what Kohli and team management do to bring back the balance.