Since the start of 2019, India have used as many as 19 players in the batting positions from numbers 4 to 7 in ODIs.
Even a week after India’s 3-0 whitewash in the hands of South Africa, the memories of the drubbing are still fresh in the minds of Team India’s fans. Besides other factors, India’s long-standing and yet-unresolved problem of a fragile middle-order has been one of the key reasons behind their failure. To be fair, this seems to be the Achilles heel for Team India that needs an immediate resolution.
Having too many options can be an issue
Sometimes, sticking with few options rather than going for several members for the same spot can assist a team in approaching games. During the ICC ODI World Cup 2019 in England, when there had been talks on how the batting sides would smash 400-500 run tallies, India seemed to be clueless with their numbers four and five.
The tournament for them was heavily shouldered on their top-order batters and when it mattered most in a low scoring chase during the semifinal against New Zealand, the middle-order found themselves under the scanner. “Did they plan for the semifinal?” former England captain Nasser Hussain questioned in a Cricbuzz program. “With a number of players, how they went into that World Cup not sure who their number 4 was going to be?” he queried.
People always think how can it so tough when a team has so many options; but actually, it is tough to recognize the right person for the particular job. “In New Zealand, for example, it is not 50 others, they stick with the ones they have got and they just become better,” Hussain pointed out how India have been using different batters at the behest of just one or two failures. It must be said that the selectors have to be crystal clear about one or two players for the position and provide them a long run before the next assignment.
Since the start of 2019, India have used as many as 19 players in the batting positions from numbers 4 to 7 in ODIs. Read More: Time to get better and transform our white-ball cricket, says KL Rahul
The overall figures of the players, who have played at least 10 innings at numbers 4 to 7 since the start of 2019
Other than these players, Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Deepak Chahar, Shardul Thakur, Venkatesh Iyer, Ravichandran Ashwin, Nitish Rana and Virat Kohli have batted in the middle-order.
Therefore, almost 20 players have found themselves batting at numbers 4-7 with the most appearances being for Kedar Jadhav in 25 matches.
A closer look at India’s middle-order
India are scheduled to play three ODIs and as many T20Is against the West Indies in Ahmedabad and Kolkata, respectively, starting February 6. With few changes in the squad, they should look to cement one stable position for the batters. Rohit Sharma will be back at the opening slot possibly with Shikhar Dhawan, who looked in a good knack during the recent South Africa series.
Lokesh Rahul should be back at number 4 in the ODI series against West Indies. His record at that spot has been phenomenal to speak. Post the ICC World Cup 2019, he has batted once at number 4 scoring 108 runs, whereas batting at 5, he has notched up 446 runs in 9 innings at an average of 63.71 with a strike rate of 114.35 including one century and four half-centuries. His 554 runs in 10 innings, in the middle-order (4-7) in ODIs post the 2019 WC has been the 5th best in world cricket.
Most Runs in Middle-Order (4-7) in ODIs post ICC World Cup 2019
Harry Tector (IRE)
M Rahim (BAN)
S Iyer (IND)
N Pooran (WI)
KL Rahul (IND)
Barring few injuries, Shreyas Iyer seems to be the sole owner of the spot batting at a healthy average and strike rate. But for Iyer the problem had been when he was recovering from an injury since the home England series, Suryakumar Yadav had scored runs (124 runs in three innings) in the Sri Lanka series. Even after that, Iyer’s record at the given position can hardly keep him away.
Rishabh Pant can be a good option at number 6; it may appear that it is a bit low according to his skills and experience but the way he plays, the number 6 position seems to be the only suitable position for him. He can score freely without much pressure of building an innings.
Baroda all-rounder Deepak Hooda who recently joined Rajasthan Cricket Association for 2021-22 season could be a solid player to erase India’s concern for the number 6 position until the experienced players like Hardik Pandya or Ravindra Jadeja return from injury. The right-handed batter, who bowls a bit of off-break, has posted 2257 runs in 74 List A appearances at an average of 38.25 at a strike rate of 93.80.
In the past years, he has performed decently in the IPL whether for Punjab Kings (PBKS), previously known as Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), or RR or Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).
Shardul Thakur/Deepak Chahar
After the end of the Protea series, India head coach Rahul Dravid had praised both Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar’s ability to bat in the lower-order. The former had stepped up with 50* and 40* in the first two ODIs while the later had almost taken India over the line with a fine fifty in the last game.
The Chennai boy can find himself at number 8. In 47 List A matches, the left-handed batter has scored 575 runs from 35 innings at an average of 20.53. Someone who has the ability to hit long sixes can do better in the West Indies series especially when Ravichandran Ashwin is nursing an injury.
Undoubtedly, these last three places are for the specialist bowlers; two pacers and one spinner depending on the combination of the line-up. In the absence of India’s premier bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, the home side will look to use their other resources. Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav can again find themselves bowling in partnership whereas if India feel, they can hand a debut cap to Ravi Bishnoi.
India’s Probable Playing XI for the 1st ODI, given KL Rahul will be available from the 2nd ODI onwards
Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shardul Thakur/Deepak Chahar, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj