Yuvraj, not the chosen one
Yuvraj Singh’s indifferent form was the talking point as India touched down in the Caribbean following their loss in the Champions Trophy final in England. Despite the string of low scores, the left-hander kept his spot at the No.4 slot in the first and third ODIs against the West Indies, even as clamour for the induction of 19-year-old Rishabh Pant grew louder. Rahul Dravid, India’s U-19 coach, urged the team management to draw a clear plan for the 2019 World Cup. After scores of 4, 14 and 39 in the three ODIs, Yuvraj never made it back to the ODI squad.
Dravid on Yuvraj’s future:
“It is a call that has got to be taken by the selectors. What they see as the road map for Indian cricket, and where they see the role for him going ahead for the next couple of years. Do you want to reassess it in a year’s time, six months’ time? Do you want to look at the available talent and see what they have to offer before going back to these two players?”
Pandey, Pandya and Jadhav for Yuvi
After India defeated Australia in the first ODI, captain Virat Kohli praised the middle and lower-middle order at the post-match presentation. Throughout that series, the lower-middle order showed pluck to bail the team out of difficult situations.
MIDDLE ORDER GETS THUMBS UP
“We lost wickets but MS (Dhoni) and Kedar played well. MS then finished it off like he does. Today was an example… Sri Lanka was the example of how good the middle and lower order can be.”
Rahane’s walk into ODI wilderness
Rahane was in the ODI squad for the three-match home series against New Zealand but didn’t get a game. He was considered the reserve opener. As India landed in South Africa, it dawned on the selectors and team management that the Mumbai batsman might not be a bad option at No. 4, given the conditions on offer. Rahane didn’t fare too badly, finishing with 140 runs from six matches at an average of 35. Since then, the Mumbaikar has been out of favour in the format. However, Kohli heaped praise on Rahane during that series.
Kohli on Rahane:
“Very happy for Jinks (Rahane). Jinks is a top-class player. We understood fast bowling was going to be a big factor in this tour. He was superb; he took on the fast bowlers.”
Rayudu, Karthik come to the party
the Asia Cup provided another opportunity for India to continue experimenting in the middle order. Rahul, who was preferred two months ago was unceremoniously dumped after two matches on the trot, as the selectors decided to place their bets on two 33-year-olds — Ambati Rayudu, coming on the back of a series of stellar performances in the 2018 IPL for the CSK, and Dinesh Karthik. Throughout the tournament, Rayudu walked in at No.3, while Karthik followed him at No.4. Karthik held that spot in four of the five matches — the only exception being against Bangladesh when Dhoni was pushed to that spot. Karthik, with three 30s, and Rayudu, with a couple of crucial half-centuries, made an impact, so much so that they were persisted in the subsequent series. Once Kohli returned, Rayudu was pushed to No.4, while Karthik, Dhoni, Jadhav and Pandya were earmarked as the floaters.
Kohli on Rayudu:
“Apart from bowlers resting here or there in ODIs, we only changed the No. 4 slot because we wanted somebody to cement it. We believe that Rayudu is the right person to capitalise it because he’s experienced and has won many games for his state and in IPL cricket. He has a great ODI record for India, so I think the batting order is sorted as far as we’re concerned.”
Rohit bats for Dhoni at No.4
Ambati Rayudu was India’s incumbent No.4 for the 3-match ODI series in Australia, boasting of an impressive average of 45.72. But the dynamics changed after the first ODI in Sydney in which MS Dhoni scored a 96-ball 51 — his first half-century in this format in over 13 months, while Rayudu was out for a second-ball duck. Vice-captain Rohit Sharma added fuel to fire when he suggested that Dhoni was ideally suited to the No.4 spot. Inexplicably, Rayudu was dropped for the third and final ODI in Melbourne. In that match, Dhoni walked in at No.4, followed by Jadhav and Karthik.
Rohit on Dhoni
“Personally, I always feel him (Dhoni) batting at No. 4 will be ideal for the team… Rayudu has done really well at No. 4, so it totally depends what the captain and coach think about it. Personally asking, yes, I would be happy if he [Dhoni] bats at that position.”
Rahul, Pant back in the reckoning
The home series against Australia gave India another opportunity to take stock of their resources ahead of the big event. Instead of instilling stability, playing XIs were tinkered with. After three indifferent starts against Australia, Rayudu — hailed by Kohli as India’s No.4 for the World Cup not too long ago — was shown the door.
Following his exit, Rahul came back at No.3, followed by Kohli at No.4. In the series decider in Delhi, Pant came in at No.4. He was followed by all-rounders Vijay Shankar and Jadhav. This constant chopping and changing meant the middle order was in a constant state of flux. To add to the confusion, Shastri said he wanted Kohli to bat at No.4 in the World Cup.
Shastri for flexibility
“Look, there has to be total flexibility (at No.4) depending on the opposition and the conditions on offer. It’s horses for courses, we have got enough ammunition there, enough players who can bat at No 4.”
The Sri Lanka tour was the first step towards chalking up the road map for the 2019 World Cup. It also marked Ravi Shastri’s return as head coach. Before that series, chief selector MSK Prasad had said KL Rahul would bat at No. 4. That didn’t happen, as there was a different batsman at No.4 in each of the five matches.
Shastri on No.4
“We will have to see who adjusts best to a particular position; whether it’s four, five or six. We will only realise that probably in about six-eight months’ time, once equal opportunities are given to a few players.”
3 ODIs, 3 No.4s
India used 11 different players at No. 4 position since the 2015 World Cup. Not surprisingly, the merry-go-round continued in the series against New Zealand as well. Chief selector MSK Prasad insisted that team the management was looking to create a pool of batsmen in the middle order.
Prasad on the middle order:
“Like how we have enough openers now… we are trying to strengthen our middle order. So we want to increase the bench strength of each and every department. That’s the reason we started giving opportunities to youngsters.”
Rahul walks in, then walks out:
India had zeroed in on KL Rahul as the No.4 batsman for the ODI series in England. He did his reputation no harm by slamming a century in the opening T20 fixture at Old Trafford. However, after registering scores of 9 not out and 0 in the first two ODIs at Trent Bridge and Lord’s respectively, he was replaced by Karthik in the final ODI at Headingley. The move was counter-productive because the team management did not give Rahul enough opportunities to cement his place at the No.4 spot, dropping him on the back of just one failure.
Ganguly on Rahul’s axING:
“KL Rahul is a must for Virat Kohli in the middle order that needs a bit of strengthening. It’s important that the management gives an extended run to the No.4 so that he can play with a bit of freedom and not worry about his place.”
Pant vs Karthik conundrum
The series against West Indies reaffirmed the team management’s unmitigated trust in Rayudu. For the first time in over 12 months, India had a stable No.4 batsman. Rayudu scored 217 runs in that series, which included a 81-ball 100 in the fourth ODI in Mumbai. With him holding fort, Dhoni, Pant and Jadhav were rotated depending on the match situation. Karthik was the casualty in the midst of this new-found stability in the batting order. It’s not as if he was terribly out of form.
Infact, the Tamil Nadu stumper had averaged 42 in six matches in 2018. But he found himself back in the domestic circuit, peeling off runs in the Deodhar Trophy.
However, the selectors asserted that Karthik was still in the reckoning for the World Cup and that he was replaced by Pant only because they needed to sort a few things out before finalising the 15-member World Cup squad.
Prasad on Pant vs Karthik:
“It is no-brainer who is our No. 1 wicketkeeper. In search of the second ‘keeper, we have given opportunities to DK and right now we are giving opportunity to Rishabh Pant. At an appropriate time, we will take a call as to who is better among the two.”
Rayudu skates on thin ice
Even though he managed to reclaim his preferred spot against New Zealand, Rayudu realised his position was by no means secure. The fact that there was a stream of candidates ready to stake claim in the middle order, only put more pressure on him. The selectors had initially picked Rahul for the New Zealand tour. When he was slapped with a ban for his comments on talk show ‘Koffee with Karan’, 19-year-old Shubman Gill was picked as his replacement. Despite these worthy contenders, it was not a lost cause for Rayudu. He finished the five-match series with 190 runs boasting of an impressive average of 63.34. His unbeaten 40-ball 42 in the third ODI at Mount Maunganui made Kohli believe that Rayudu had done his bit to retain his spot at No.4.
Kohli on Rayudu:
“When he (Rayudu) starts playing like that, you start feeling more confident about him as a batsman.”
Shastri rues lack of solidity in the middle order
India surged ahead in the showpiece event with the ‘horses for courses’ policy advocated by head coach Ravi Shastri. Rahul walked in at No.4 in the opener against South Africa, while Pandya batted in at that position against Australia and Pakistan. Everything was going according to Ravi Shastri’s plans. However, injuries to Dhawan and Shankar upset Shastri’s applecart. This meant Rahul was elevated as an opener to partner Rohit. Even then, it didn’t hamper the team’s momentum. India bruised and bullied opponents to saunter into the World Cup semis, until they ran into a potent New Zealand attack that exposed the brittle Indian middle order under the grey skies at Old Trafford.
‘No.4 a problem’
“In hindsight, we needed a solid batsman in the middle order. But now, that’s something for the future. That’s a position that has always given us problems, but we couldn’t just nail it. KL Rahul was there, then Shikhar Dhawan got injured. Then Vijay Shankar was there and he got injured. We just couldn’t control it.”