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ICC Cricket World Cup: Team India’s number 4 problem explained through numbers

In the number four position six batsmen have played seven innings or more for India since the 2015 World Cup (including Dhoni), but nobody has made the place their own.

cricket Updated: Apr 17, 2019 12:20 IST
Karthik Shashidhar
Karthik Shashidhar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
ICC Cricket World Cup,Virat Kohli,Ambati Rayudu
File image of Ambati Rayudu(AP)

The Indian ODI Cricket Team has a number four problem. Ahead of the World Cup team selection on Monday, India’s top order reads Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, __________, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya.

Based on matches from after the end of the 2015 World Cup, India has shown remarkable consistency in team selection in these six places (1 to 3 and 5 to 7). In the number four position, however, at least six batsmen have played seven innings or more for India since the 2015 World Cup (including Dhoni), but nobody has made the place their own.

At the top level their statistics look good - all of them bar Manish Pandey have a batting average over 40. Even the strike rates look good, until you see that they are all less than the team strike rate in the respective games, sometimes by a large amount. In other words, all of India’s number fours in the last four years (barring Pandey again) have been slowing the team down.

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In ordinary circumstances, the number four having a strike rate lower than the team strike rate is okay, since the job of the number four is to anchor the middle overs. However, the stupendous performance of India’s top three in the last four years means that the job of the Indian number four is anything but ordinary.

Thanks to the presence of stalwarts such as Sachin Tendulkar at the top of the order has meant that India’s second wicket has always fallen later than that of other teams. In the last four years, however, this gap has grown significantly. Instead of coming in a global average of 75/2 after 14 overs, India’s number four walks in to bat at about 110/2 after 20 overs, and this means they need to play a completely different game.

Rather than anchoring the middle overs, the job of India’s number four is to build on the (normally great) start provided by the top three. And the Indian selectors have possibly not recognised this sufficiently. Buoyed by conventional statistics, which look good for most of India’s number fours in the last four years, they’ve given a long rope to the likes of Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik, only for them to slow the team down.

We have steady batsmen at 5 and 6 (Dhoni and Jadhav respectively), to enable a recovery in case of a bad start. We need an enforcer at number 4. Hopefully the selectors will recognise this when they sit down to announce the team on Monday.

First Published: Apr 15, 2019 14:27 IST