Spotlight on No 4 spot

Spotlight on No 4 spot
In the last 14 matches, spread over three series in three different countries, India have managed to win 12 of them. Generally, a team performing so consistently well should have few issues when it comes to the line-up it desires to have. Most of the team combination seems to have fallen in place as well except the No 4 position which is as settled as an opening batsman facing the first ball of the match. And it is the decision as to who should bat at the top of the order that is directly impacting the No 4 slot.

It first consumed KL Rahul and now it threatens to push away Manish Pandey who has had a string of low scores against Australia. The return of Shikhar Dhawan to the top position will leave Ajinkya Rahane once again without a spot in the final XI if the team management decides to stick with Pandey and Kedar Jadhav for the two middle-order spots (No 4 and 5) but that would be a tough decision to make.

Serious questions will be raised if Rahane, who in the last 11 innings has scored seven half-centuries and a century. That’s as impressive as it can get. While captain Virat Kohli is on record saying that he prefers Rahane only as an opener how will he justify excluding him after such consistent performances?  
         
“Jinks (Rahane) understands that at this stage he is the third opener in the team, we certainly back him because he has been shifted around a bit in the batting order (in the past) which is not healthy for a guy who likes to open in the shorter format,” Kohli had said during the Sri Lanka limited-overs series, categorically ruling out Rahane in the middle-order.

Virat’s deputy in ODIs, Rohit Sharma, appeared as clueless about Rahane’s role in the series against New Zealand in the light of Dhawan’s comeback and Kohli’s past assertions.

“See I have no idea about where he (Rahane) will be batting,” said Rohit on Friday. “Yes, Shikhar (Dhawan) is back, but speaking of Rahane he has probably grabbed all his opportunities in the last few series that he has played, now it’s up to the captain and the coach (as to) what they want and where they want him to bat. A couple of series back the captain came and spoke that he considered him as an opening batsman and I don’t know if he (the captain) wants him to bat at four again. That will be completely his call if he feels that we need someone like Rahane batting at four in this particular team right now. I don’t know if that will happen, it is very unclear, we have to wait and see,” he offered.

If the team management chooses to accommodate Rahane in the middle-order, it will most probably be Pandey who will have to sit out as Jadhav not only has shown more consistency with the bat but also offers flat off-spinners that have proved handy on a few occasions. The ideal situation, however, would be to play both Rahane and Pandey at the expense of Jadhav as India, unlike against Australia, can afford to go without the Maharashtra batsman’s bowling services against New Zealand. Plus, Rahane and Pandey are more purposeful in the field than Jadhav but it is a fact conveniently ignored by the men who matter though they swear by highest fielding standards.

So after “trying” Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Pandey and Jadhav at No 4, it could just be Rahane’s turn to test his luck. Come to think of it, Rahane hasn’t done all too badly at this position.

In 21 innings he has scored 703 runs at an average of 37 with a strike rate of 85.21 per 100 balls while his career average is 35.27 and strike rate 78.71. Nevertheless, the right-hander will be approaching the role with a little bit trepidation, given the recent history.
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