Normally number 7 is a rather nondescript batting position. You never puff your chest out and say ‘I bat at number 7’ like you might with even no 5 or no 6. For years it was occupied by the wicket keeper (“occupied”, remember, not “owned”) who averaged in the late twenties and once or twice a year played the innings that numbers 8 downwards couldn’t. Number 8 tended to be the spinner who always had to do more to stay in the side than the other bowlers! 9, 10 and 11 didn’t matter because their job was to take wickets.
But now, all of a sudden, especially, in limited overs cricket, we are searching for ‘a number 7” as if it was a position of honour, as if there were only one or two who could own the place! Admittedly, I have often written of the need for number 7 to win matches occasionally but if you have to think late into the night about him, then maybe the problems are deeper than you imagine!
So who should number 7 be? A batting finisher? A batsman who bowls? A wicket keeper? Or just a bowler who carries a bat out for reasons other than as an adornment? Or should he, as is often perceived, be someone who does a bit with the bat and a bit with the ball? The latter category has seen a lot of people play a lot of big matches and you wonder about it. To make a side you should either be a good enough batsman or a good enough bowler. A bit of this and a bit of that but not enough of either is a strange qualification to present!
I think, especially in India, number 7 is becoming important for the wrong reasons; because numbers 8, 9, 10 and 11 don’t bowl well enough. Most good sides, teams that have won World Cups, have played seven batsmen and four bowlers and, being able to bank forty overs, have slipped in ten from somewhere. But if you can’t bank those forty, you have to start looking around for more than ten overs and that is when you start looking at someone who can do a bit of this and a bit of that. If this player could do more, he would be in the side for a primary skill and so when you pick this bits and pieces player, you are essentially playing a weak link. The key, always, is how well your bottom four bowl and with India that is a major concern.
Teams that have won tournaments have tended to play seven batsmen, one of whom is a wicket keeper and two of whom, in the side already, are good enough to bowl a few overs each. In the 1975 final, Clive Lloyd bowled 12 overs and he could use Collis King in 1979. In 1996 Sri Lanka played seven batsmen and used Aravinda and Jayasuriya while India in 2011 got by with Yuvraj and Raina. And the Australians, except in the last World Cup where they used James Faulkner, have never really bothered too much with players who didn’t make the side with a primary skill. Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson were good enough batsmen, Ian Harvey was good enough to make the team as a bowler most days and as we eventually saw, Faulkner became good enough to be in the top five bowlers.
And so, my thesis is that, instead of fretting over a number seven, India must look around for four quality bowlers, invest in them and stay with them. Inevitably, one of them will bat a bit, Ashwin does, so does whichever left arm spinner you play, and since that will mean you are playing seven batsmen, that shouldn’t be a consideration anyway. Then you work on getting six of those to deliver ten overs.
The genuine all-rounder is a very very rare species. Like Jacques Kallis was and he ensured that South Africa always played seven batsmen and five bowlers. But the search for this elusive person cannot end with someone who does a bit of this, a bit of that but nothing in particular. India should stop worrying about that kind of number seven and start demanding more from those that make the team as genuine batsmen or bowlers.