“With Rayudu coming in and playing well in the Asia Cup, it’s about giving him enough game time till the World Cup so that the particular slot [no. 4] will be sorted for us”
Virat Kohli’s statements before the series seemed to have acted as catalyst for Ambati Rayudu, who had a rather successful stint in the blue jersey prior to this before he was dumped from the side. Recalled to the ODI team for England, Rayudu failed the yo-yo test but was soon back in the national team, this time to stamp his place down at the much discussed no. 4 slot.
Backing Kohli’s claims, Rayudu raced to a well-made 73 in the second ODI of the series at Vizag but consistency is another virtue India seek from their no. 4. This he fulfilled with a hundred under trying circumstances – read as Virat Kohli being dismissed early – launching a calculated assault on Windies in the company of Rohit Sharma at the Brabourne stadium on Monday.
Much of social media raved on about India finally putting to rest the conundrum at no. 4 but has Rayudu already owned the position? Based on evidence from this series he is well on his way to doing that.
“Rayudu has taken his chance with both hands. We need to back him till the 2019 World Cup. He reads the game well, so we are happy that someone intelligent is batting at number four,” Kohli had said at the post-match presentation after the fourth ODI.
However, before we get over-excited about the prospect of Rayudu at 4, let us look into the job description for the ideal no. 4 in the present Indian line-up. The requirement is bound to be slightly different from those of other teams or that of any other no. 4 batsman for the simple fact that India have an incredible top three who rack up runs for fun.
A total of 63.39% of all runs India have scored since the 2015 World Cup have come from the top 3 – primary contributors being Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. The top three have been insanely consistent that the middle order is more often than not left with little to do.
In matches where Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli are India’s top three, the probability of the no. 4 walking in before the 10th over is minimal. If two of them get going, which is often the case, the no. 4 rarely comes into picture before the 25th or 30th over.
Rayudu has impressed with his strike rate in the last few games, but rate of scoring isn’t traditionally his forte. This is where India are in a fix for their middle order, aside from not being the strongest, it’s pretty weak on power hitters too. Given that MS Dhoni is an untouchable constant in the middle order, the rest have the additional responsibility of pushing the run rate in the final few overs.
Rayudu is no power hitter. Neither is Dhoni now. This leaves us with two batsmen from 4-7, both likely to be all-rounders for none of India’s top 5 bowls. This virtually leaves Rishabh Pant, the only manic power hitter available aside from Hardik Pandya, in a head-to-head clash with Kedar Jadhav. If Jadhav isn’t playing, India have to ensure they get 10 overs from their no. 7 which is either Ravindra Jadeja or Pandya at this point of time.
Rayudu might have hogged the limelight with his performances this series and earned accolades from the captain but he isn’t the first to impress in the role. Manish Pandey and Ajinkya Rahane both enjoyed a reasonable run at 4, as did Yuvraj Singh. A consistent feature amongst all these players is the lack of striking prowess (Yuvraj no longer being the force he once was) and this eventually resulted in them being excluded from the side.
Having a consolidator at no. 4 makes little sense in this Indian line-up for Dhoni at 5 is zeroed in to play the very same role. He acts as the security blanket in case the top order fumble, which in itself is a rare occurrence. Adding further security at no. 4 makes little sense for more often than not, batsmen at 4 and 5 are required to up the ante in an attempt to finish the innings with a flourish.
Jadhav isn’t a massive big hitter who can win games on his own when the required run rate is soaring but is kind of an essential component in the current line-up. All of this suggests that India lack in striking ability in the death overs, aside from Pandya who hasn’t shown enough consistency to be entirely trusted with the role.
With modern-day ODI totals starting upwards of 300, particularly in England, India might need more from their no. 4 than mere runs. Rayudu has aced the initial test, albeit against an average Windies bowling unit at home, but needs to show he can own the innings from the position if the situation demands him to. His record against top quality bowling attacks is very average which once again suggests that we need to hold our horses before passing a verdict on Rayudu, India’s no.4.