The Big Picture
India has been on a whirlwind high in the past two years. With their last series loss coming more than two years ago (1-4 vs Australia in 2016) and Virat Kohli winning 39 of the last 51 ODIs since January 2017. Part of India’s success can be attributed to their fearsome top-3 in Dhawan, Kohli, Rohit and their quartet of wicket-takers in Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal.
But there is an elephant in the room that comes back to haunt the ‘Men in Blue’ like it did at Lord’s or last year’s Champions Trophy Final against Pakistan- the No.4 riddle.
Today, in this article, we’ll list out some listicles as to how India can solve their middle-order riddle.
Here’s my compilation:-
#1 Bat Rahul at No.3 and push Virat at 4.
One of the things that have plagued Indian Cricket since the 2015 World Cup is the No.4 spot in the batting order.
India has tried as many as ten different batsmen for the No.4 spot with diminishing returns and in my view, there are two different ways of looking at the current problem. Firstly, if India wants KL Rahul in their scheme of things for the 2019 World Cup- he has to bat at No.3. Rahul is a top-order batsman and likes the pace coming to the ball. He has been tried time and again at No.4 and it has left the Indians with more questions than answers. In 3 innings at No.4, Rahul averages a mere 13.00 at a strike-rate of 59.09.
India showed the flexibility in the T20 format where Virat pushed himself at No.4 to accommodate Rahul in the top-order. I think it’s time to do the same in ODI cricket. Virat batting at No.4 will allow him to control the innings in the middle-overs in-case the top-3 fall cheaply. Kohli is no stranger to the No.4 spot. He batted at the same position during the 2011 World Cup. He has thus far played 37 innings at No.4 and has accumulated 1744 runs at an average of 58.13 and strike-rate (90.41) of just a shade over 90.
#2 Bat Virat at 3 and give opportunities to the likes of Rayudu or Shreyas Iyer at No.4
The No.4 position in a batting-unit is a glue that binds the top-order and the lower-middle order and in-case Virat and the Indian team management deems it unviable to push the talismanic batsman to the No.4 spot, we need to look at specialist middle-order batters to fulfil the role.
One name crops up immediately as I write ‘specialist’- Ambati Rayudu. Rayudu was originally picked into the ODI squad but the 32-year-old failed to clear the yo-yo test and was replaced by Suresh Raina. Rayudu averages 50.24 in 30 ODIs for India with most of his runs coming at No.4 position. He has been in a swashbuckling form recently and might just be the answer to the middle-order riddle. Another batsman that India could try at No.4 can be young Shreyas Iyer. Iyer has scored two fifties in his short career thus far and could be given a longer rope with an eye on the future.
#3 Dhoni should not bat lower than No.5 in the batting order
It’s no secret now that MS Dhoni’s finishing-prowess is on the vein and that he needs time to get himself in before going for the onslaught. It was painfully evident at Lord’s when he scramped to a 59-ball-37 coming in at No.6.
I think the time has come for India to relieve Dhoni of the finishing job and consistently play him at the No.5 spot with the likes of Pandya, Suresh Raina or Dinesh Karthik to take up the finishing duties in the death overs.