ICC World Cup 2019: Is Vijay Shankar the right choice over Ambati Rayudu?
Ambati Rayudu - after being termed the first-choice batsman for the No: 4 slot by Indian captain Virat Kohli in October 2018, has been left out of the squad for World Cup 2019. Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar has tipped the Hyderabadi batsman despite making his debut only in January.
India's problems at No. 4
India's No: 4 position was manned for a long time by Yuvraj Singh. But ever since he first sat out due to illness and bad form back in 2011, no one has really been able to cement the spot.
India tried the likes of Manoj Tiwary, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, and yet went to Dinesh Karthik for the 2013 Champions Trophy after his impressive IPL form.
On the road to the 2015 World Cup, they picked Rayudu as a potential choice, but it was Ajinkya Rahane who was preferred at the tournament on the back of his Test performance in Australia.
Post a semi-final exit, India mulled the option of promoting the likes of MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Manish Pandey. But none of them was convincing and they went back to Yuvraj for the Champions Trophy 2017.
India's search for the slot continued as KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav were also given chances.
The Rayudu-Shankar debate
Rayudu came back to the scene after a season-winning performance for Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2018. His performance in the Asia Cup and against Windies seemed to have secured his spot in the playing XI.
But his performance dropped considerably in the subsequent series against Australia and New Zealand. Lack of game time was seen as the reason for his decline. There was a change in his playing style as well as he was suddenly playing too many dot balls. To put it in numbers in his last three ODI series, 60% of the deliveries Rayudu faced were dot balls.
There was a brilliant 90 that he scored in the New Zealand Series but 17 of his first 19 balls in that innings were dots. Meanwhile, Shankar was called in as a replacement after Hardik Pandya was sent back home due to some unforeseen circumstances.
Shankar grabbed the chance with both hands, as he played some crucial knocks that bailed India out of tough situations. His clean hitting and ease in rotating the strike impressed many experts.
In the home series against Australia, Shankar played a few handy cameos towards the end overs, at more than a run a ball.
His temperament was on full display in the second ODI against Australia as he bowled a brilliant final over to take India to a thrilling win.
Now, Shankar finds himself in the 15-member squad for the World Cup, and Rayudu doesn't. The current form of both the players has resulted in this; although the selectors did mention that IPL performances weren't considered, the strike-rate of Shankar (129) and Rayudu (86) so far this season could also have been a factor.
Indian fans would be hoping for plenty of runs from the Sunrisers all-rounder as the Men in Blue set their eyes on a third World Cup. The selectors have preferred the versatility and all-rounder skills of Shankar over the experience of Rayudu, and only time will tell whether that was the right decision.