The solution to India's middle-order problem
It all began with a whisper. Heard quietly through the shadows where they still spoke his name. Even though it had been long, long enough for some to question whether it would ever be possible again, the silent whispers lingered. In the distance, beyond the noise that now surrounded the No.1 ranked ODI side.
A side that had transformed itself, since the trauma of a defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals in a final at Lord's, were surely doing alright. They certainly don't need an all-rounder who just turned 31 a couple of months ago.
Any thoughts about a potential recall for the southpaw was dismissed as wishful thinking on the part of his adoring acolytes who come to his side even if he would wrongly proclaim that the sun sets in the east.
After all, the top three leading run-getters in ODIs since the 2013 Champions Trophy were Indians. And they just so happened to be called Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, whose contributions at the top of the order have helped India win nine successive ODI series on the bounce.
Why would this side need a 31-year-old batsman who has an issue with the short ball and hasn't played an ODI since October 2015? While it is true that his performances with the bat were impressive for Uttar Pradesh in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2018, he was rightly rewarded for his consistency with a place in the T20I squad for the South Africa series.
Surely, there is no need to call him back to the ODI side after over 27 months in the wilderness.
But then, something happened. India's decision to move forward with youngsters and newbies hasn't gone according to plan, at least in the batting department. While the top three continue to fire on all cylinders, the rest of the middle-order is running on fumes.
MS Dhoni isn't the finisher he once was but lack of alternatives have forced him to move away from his strengths at the twilight of his career and somehow rediscover the Midas touch he had during the first decade of his international career.
Injuries have hindered Kedar Jadhav's progress and as a result failed to provide India with the flexibility that they so desperately seem to crave. Ajinkya Rahane is no doubt a quality ODI player but he is a fish that has been thrown out of the safety of the pond into the frying pan where flames seem to engulf him with every dot ball.
Manish Pandey has been inconsistent and while Shreyas Iyer comes into the side on the back of a mountain of runs in domestic cricket, he is quickly finding out that runs in international cricket are like the water you collect from the ocean with a bucket that has been punctured by holes. Hardik Pandya goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with the ease of a ballet dancer going through a routine that seems impossible to the untrained eye.
The current middle-order is nowhere close to helping India claim their third World Cup, as the preparation for next year's tournament in England begins in earnest. In fact, the only player who continues to shine but yet fails to emerge with any credit is Dinesh Karthik, who must be wondering what he has to do to get a regular run in the middle-order.
And so, the whispers have grown louder and louder. So loud that they no longer seem like the words of an adoring acolyte who is unwilling to step out of the past, as nostalgia seems so much better than the harsh reality of the present.
Out of sheer necessity it may be but all things are finally pointing towards the 31-year-old's comeback to the ODI side. With India in desperate need of a finisher and someone in the top six who can contribute with the ball as well, all those months in the gym, sweating over fitness and ensuring that all the tests were cleared might finally pay off.
While it is true that no one has been able to claim the No.5 or No.6 spot as their own, the recall of another World Cup winner isn't just a nostalgia-soaked selection that will appease the fans who might be baying for blood if the top three weren't so bloody good and the middle-order was exposed more often.
An ODI average of over 35 and strike rate of almost 95 after 200 matches and 5,000 runs speaks for a batsman who has a proven pedigree. And if the selection is indeed geared towards the 2019 World Cup in England, the inclusion would make even more sense.
Across two World Cups, one of which India won and the other in which they lost in the semi-final to the eventual winners, he averages almost 60 with a strike rate of 107.5. What is his record in England you ask? It might perhaps surprise you to find out that his numbers there are better than his career numbers.
An ODI average of 37 in England is only better than his overall figures but his strike rate is a staggering 113, which would provide just the right impetus as India seek to finish with a flourish after the platform that is usually set by the top three.
You can only delay the inevitable for so long. With all the other nations heading a certain way with their approach in ODIs, India simply cannot afford to be left behind. So if the selection of a 31-year-old will help calm the stormy seas that is their middle-order at the moment, the selectors should take it without batting an eyelid.