Usually, having a rich pool of batsmen is a good sign for a team. But that could also mean a lot of reshuffle. The ODI format has scope for flexibility and the options allow for players to move up and down the order, coming out of their comfort zones.
For India, besides the top three positions, the rest have been floating. Ajinkya Rahane, the Test No 5, was made to open in the first ODI in Dharamsala with Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul injured, scoring 33.
Late last year, he batted at No 4 or lower against South Africa, and against Australia this year. But Manish Pandey is set to retain the No 4 slot against New Zealand. It will be interesting to see who bats two down when Dhawan and Rahul return for the ODIs against England.
Spot set for series
For now, it will be Pandey. “Manish has done really well in the past,” said coach Anil Kumble. The 27-year-old scored an unbeaten 104 against Australia at the SCG in January at two-down. In Dharamsala, he chipped to midwicket on 17.
“He started off well in Dharamsala,” Kumble said. “In ODIs, you don’t have to have certain positions fixed; it all depends on the situation. So you could see someone else bat at 4 if we bat first or second. But Manish has showed a lot of promise and backed it up with performances. He is certainly the No 4 batsman.”
Rahane has been the most flexible in the line-up. He began his ODI career as an opener before being moved to the middle-order. He was demoted after struggling against the new ball versus England at home in 2013. And he lost his place last year due to his inability to up the run rate in Bangladesh, scoring 9 off 25.
In the Tri-series in Australia in January 2015, Rahane was promoted to open in the second match in Rohit’s absence. Against South Africa at the year end, he batted at No.3 but that adjustment saw Virat Kohli suffering a slight slump. After two games, Kohli was back at No 3 and Rahane moved to No 4. MS Dhoni then said the best position for Rahane was 4 as he would get time to settle down.
Top of the order
In Dharamsala, Rahane looked comfortable as opener. “Rahane certainly fits in at the top of the order, so that is one thing we will persist with,” added Kumble.
But Dhoni might face a problem of plenty against England in January. Rahane will again be expected to bat in different spots and Pandey may have to step aside.
“Yes, Rahane coming in at 4 does give us an option once Shikhar and Rahul are fit but we will only look at that when England come,” said Kumble.
“You probably would see a different batsman depending on the situation,” he said. “Looking at the Champions Trophy (in England next year), we will then decide who will open,” said Kumble, hinting that the team management could ask Rahane to partner Rohit with Dhawan sitting out.
While New Zealand aren’t playing to potential, India can test Pandey in different positions. He can dominate the bowling and settle down quickly. That is not the case with Rahane. But what makes him a contender for the No.4 spot over Pandey is the experience of 68 ODIs and match-winning contributions.