Reluctance to use Rahul at No. 4 is perplexing

IN SPOTLIGHT: K L Rahul has the technique and temperament to bat at the No.4 position for India in the World Cup. File AFP Photo

Perhaps smarter by the experience, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad didn’t commit on K L Rahul’s batting position in the World Cup-bound squad.

He was careful in the words he used about the right-hander this time. “We also have a role for KL (Rahul) somewhere at the top order. To begin with, he is only a reserve opener but if the need arises (to bat him elsewhere), it will be the team management’s call.”

Having been left red-faced after the team management gave two hoots to his assertion in Sri Lanka in 2017 that Rahul would bat at No 4 in ODIs “because he is too good a player to be sitting out,” the former India wicketkeeper “wisely” left it to skipper Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri as to how they would want to best utilise the Karnataka batsman.

What he did say was Vijay Shankar, whose “three-dimensional” qualities shut the World Cup doors on Ambati Rayudu, would bat at No 4 “to begin with.” Given the gulf between some of Prasad’s claims and what actually has transpired in the dressing room, there is no guarantee that Shankar would indeed get to walk in at position that has been adorned by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Kohli himself in previous events.

Ever since the announcement of the squad, there have been debates galore about how thin the team looks in terms of batting strength, and there is some merit in the argument. It’s a top-heavy batting order with a tremendous gap in the quality between the first three and the rest of the line-up given M S Dhoni’s diminished power-hitting.  

While for a large part of the last two years, the chinks in the middle-order have been masked by Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli, who have done bulk of the scoring, whenever they have failed the rest of the unit has crumbled under pressure more often than not. The Champions Trophy final in 2017 and the recent Ranchi and Delhi ODIs against Australia are cases in point.

Given this scenario, how wise is it for India to make Shankar bat at No 4? While the Tamil Nadu all-rounder has done enough to impress upon the team management and the selectors in his limited opportunities, is he the right man for that crucial position, especially when the top three or two have an off day? Shankar at best is a slightly polished version of Hardik Pandya and hasn’t so far given any indication of building an innings if he were to walk in with 25-30 overs left in the innings. Hence, the reluctance to consider Rahul at No 4 is a bit perplexing now that Prasad has said only one wicketkeeper would be playing which rules out Dinesh Karthik being in the XI.   

It’s true that Rahul hasn’t done much of note in the four chances (twice each at No 4 and No 3) he has got, but he has the game for such situations. He has the ability to both drop anchor and accelerate against any attack. Plus, he has the experience of English conditions. It makes little sense to have one of your better batsmen in the squad warming the bench especially when your No. 4-7 have success rate that isn’t exactly encouraging.   

This is also an indictment of the team management that even after three years of experimentation, it has failed to find the right batsman for the job. While it has been guilty of not giving a decent run to many players to prove their credentials, the man it invested in the most – Rayudu – has been left out. So much for planning.

 

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Reluctance to use Rahul at No. 4 is perplexing

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