Is the quest to fill Sachin Tendulkar’s No. 4 spot purely symbolic? What will it signify when Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma walk out to bat with India two down in South Africa next month? Tendulkar batted at No 6 through his first 14 Tests.
He was first promoted during the second innings of the Adelaide Test in 1991-92 as Mohammad Azharuddin and Dilip Vengsarkar gladly made way for the teenage prodigy. By cracking ton at Perth, Tendulkar made No 4 his own.
“It was only natural. The management felt it was right to promote him,” Vengsarkar revealed. “At that point, everybody knew this boy was peaking. But I don’t think too much emphasis should be given to No 4. Every position counts in Test cricket.
And it is not necessary that only the best batsman should replace Sachin at 4,” added the former India captain. In some ways, Tendulkar has made the No 4 position more relevant than before. And make no mistake about it: his heir would have an albatross hanging around his neck for the rest of his career.
For the best
For more than a hundred years, the best batted one-drop: Don Bradman, George Headley, Rohan Kanhai, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis. The traditional selection criterion was that you pick your best at No 3 – someone capable of steadying the ship if a wicket falls early, or capitalise on a good start. Wally Hammond averaged 75 at No 3 (in 37 Tests) compared to an overall average of 58.
He scored his unbeaten 336 against New Zealand at No 3. Garry Sobers, who floated in the order especially after captaincy, scored his world record 365 not out at one-drop.
In recent years, Younis Khan and Hashim Amla have scored triple tons at No 3. Zaheer Abbas scored his unforgettable 274 in Birmingham at No 3. Greg Chappell, the best Aussie batsman of his era, scored his debut hundred at No 7 and spent a lot of time at No 4, but wound up at No 3 later in his career. Chappell even touched upon the value of a No 3 in his book ‘Fierce Focus’.
Lara averaged 60 from 45 Tests batting at 3, compared to his overall average of 53. Ponting walked away from No 3 only at the fag end of his career, knowing he was past his best.
Having said that, greats Graeme Pollock and Javed Miandad preferred batting at two-down. Miandad, who batted No 4 in 104 Tests, acknowledged that No 3 was a pressure test.
“If you’re two down quickly, the No 4 batsman is under a lot of pressure. But at No 3, you have to still face the new ball at most times. In the subcontinent, a No 4 can play the spinners more, and though I was really good against pace, I could score a lot more at No 4. On overseas pitches, No 3 becomes more critical.
“In the earlier days, when you played on uncovered pitches, every position was tough – the quality of cricket was better. Over the years, quality of bowling has gone down. In any other era, the best batsman had to open or bat at No 3 – to counter the fast bowlers. That concept changed and later the best batsmen batted at 4. That’s why I and Sachin batted at No 4,” the Pakistan great told HT.
Miandad however felt India had the resources to fill Tendulkar’s spot. “I don’t think whoever replaces him at No 4 will be under pressure. He should treat it as an honour and not pressure. When I left, I knew Inzamam-ul-Haq would fill my shoes and he did that very well.”
Aravinda de Silva too batted at No 4 for most of his career.
“In the earlier days, I used to bat at 3, especially when we played abroad. The captain and coach always felt I had the best technique to bat at 3. But slowly, I moved to 4 when we got (Marvan) Atapattu – who was rock-solid in defence like Rahul Dravid. But yes, it’s true that No 4 became the position for the best batsmen after a while. And Tendulkar is the biggest example,” he told HT.
Asked if Tendulkar’s replacement could get the job done, de Silva said: “Nobody can replace players like him but India has a lot of talent. Nobody should get overawed just because Sachin used to bat there. Once he’s gone, it’s just another position in the order. And youngsters will step up, I am sure.”