In the last week, India have gone from having plenty of problems to potentially facing a problem of plenty. As recently as the second ODI in Cardiff, India’s batting order was looking more or less settled. In that match, Rohit Sharma made a gritty half-century to cement his position at the top, Ajinkya Rahane played a composed 41-run knock at No.4, and Suresh Raina reclaimed his No.5 position with, perhaps, a career-reviving century.
Then, Rohit broke his finger. Forget about the lofty ambition of a well-established batting order for the World Cup in six months’ time, India’s plan for the next match in Nottingham after two days looked uncertain.
Before the third ODI, Ambati Rayudu went up to Dhoni and said he was ready to open the innings if needed. Dhoni appreciated the gesture but turned the offer down. He turned to Rahane.
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“Apart from being a middle-order batsman, he (Rahane) is someone who will have to open if the team needs him to open. And that is one of the reasons that he is there,” Dhoni explained.
Rahane has looked India’s most at-ease batsman, a sort of fail-safe, during the Test series where they went into free fall. He is technically gifted, which makes the job of opening easier. Also, he has done it before. And he enforces himself on the opposition and the game (like Shikhar Dhawan at his best), without having to make any effort (unlike Rohit).
That’s what he did during those 45 runs in the glorious sunshine at Tent Bridge, as India’s chase took off. His back-to-back boundaries on either side of the wicket off James Anderson took the sting out of the attack. But Rahane has the knack of introducing a touch of pathos just when it looks like he is scripting a limited-overs classic. On Saturday, it was the attempted push to third man that ended up in the wicket-keeper’s gloves.
Promoting Rahane to replace Rohit solves one problem. But it creates another. It left a Rahane-sized hole in the middle order. In stepped Ambati Rayudu.
Seizing his chance
The Andhra batsman would have felt hard done by when he lost his place in the XI to Raina after making 72 in the practice game. And with Raina seizing his chance with a 75-ball-100, Rayudu would have given up any reasonable hopes of getting a look-in during the series. So, when the sudden opportunity to replace Rahane at No.4 came, he pounced on it.
It was fitting that he came out to bat as Rahane was walking back. At 85/2, India were still a long way away and then they proceeded to lose Virat Kohli at 120. However, Rayudu was firm at the other end, rotating the strike and playing smart shots. He added 87 runs with Raina, and after the latter got out, stayed till the end to see the team home and put them in pole position to win the series.
Which brings us back to the problem of plenty.
Rahane’s knock at the top and Rayudu’s in the middle have meant this batting order will likely be the template for the remaining two matches of the series. And should they go on to further cement their positions, it will be a difficult decision as to whom to leave out when Rohit is fit and available for selection.
Dhawan a concern
Dhoni acknowledged that there could be a surplus of options once the Mumbai batsman returns. “Overall it looks like a good team. If you look at the batting order itself, it is a fantastic one. If Rohit gets fit at the top of the order or if he is batting in the middle, it is looking good,” he said.
For the moment, however, Dhoni need not worry about this impending happy-headache. Shikhar Dhawan is working diligently on an antidote: He is repeatedly throwing away his wicket.