WINDIES TOUR OF INDIA, 2018
Can Rayudu nail down the No. 4 spot in time for the World Cup? © Getty
Since the 2015 World Cup, as many as ten batsmen have been tried and tested at the No.4 slot in the Indian batting order. It is October in 2018 now, and the conundrum hasn’t been resolved yet.
It has been the focal point of the narrative that accompanies every one-day series that India have played in the last few years. With the top three, and the slots and roles in the lower-middle order allocated, it has come down to the No.4 spot, repeatedly, that has been the bone of contention.
The position in the aforementioned period was filled by the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Manoj Tiwary and Kedar Jadhav – all of whom have played a substantial number of games for India. While not one of them could stake a claim and make the position his own with unshakable command, a ray of hope has emerged in the form of Ambati Rayudu, who has earned the skipper’s endorsement for the vital No. 4 spot.
“The only position that we were trying to figure out was No. 4 for a long time, and we tried many players, which unfortunately could not be capitalised [on] or cemented in the way we wanted,” said Virat Kohli on Saturday (October 20). “We were looking at Rayudu for England but some guidelines had to be followed because of which he couldn’t make it. He made it to the Asia Cup and the team felt that he is designed to play that middle-order batsman role.”
Rayudu broke into the national side on the back of a solid IPL season earlier this year, where he belted 602 runs, averaging 43 for the Chennai Super Kings, at a strike-rate of almost 150. Failing the Yo-Yo Test, however, kept him out of reckoning for the England series that he was initially selected for, but Rayudu made the most of his chance at the Asia Cup where he scored 175 runs in six innings, averaging 43.75 while batting at No. 3 in the absence of Kohli. He was even promoted up the order as an opener in one game, in which he ended up scoring a fifty.
“Apart from bowlers resting here or there in one-day cricket, we only change the No. 4 slot because we wanted somebody to cement it. We believe that Rayudu is the right person to capitalise because he’s experienced and he’s won many games for his state and in IPL cricket.
“No.4 was something we were looking for for a long time and with Rayudu coming in and playing well in the Asia Cup, [by] giving him enough game-time between now and the World Cup, I think that particular slot will be sorted. He has a great one-day record already for India, so I think the batting order is sorted as far as we’re concerned,” he added.
India have all but 18 games before the World Cup to set their affairs in order and put together the perfect combination for the tournament. The bowlers are hunting in a pack and the batsmen are clicking in unison. The introduction of a left-am paceman in Khaleel Ahmed, then, only strengthens the variety in the side that is spoiled for choice.
“We don’t want to leave any bases uncovered,” said Kohli. “We thought bringing a left-armer into the mix will give us enough variety in terms of whoever we play against [and] the kind of opposition we play against. We have two wrist-spinners; in a scenario where a finger-spinner might play with a wrist-spinner, then you see whether there are enough right-handers for a leggie to play or there are enough left-handers for a chinaman to play. So, as a team you want as many options as possible so that you field your best bowling attack against that batting line-up.
“Bringing in a left-hander like Khaleel who has the ability to swing the ball both ways, gets good bounce and bowls at a decent pace, is always an added luxury to have in a team which definitely makes the job easier for people like Bhuvi and Bumrah who will obviously feed off another variety in the bowling attack. I think it’s a great thing to have a left-arm seamer after so long. After Zak (Zaheer Khan) and Ashish Nehra, we haven’t really had a left-arm seamer, so it’s good to see someone who has come up the ranks and provides variety to our bowling attack,” he added.