Indian cricket is heading towards an interesting yet exciting phase in limited overs’ cricket under the leadership of newly appointed captain Virat Kohli. Starting from the first ODI against England on January 15, you might witness a completely different approach from Men in Blue. While one may assume that India’s lower middle-order problems are over with the return of all-rounder, Yuvraj Singh, the number 4 spot is still up for grabs, with Ajinkya Rahane and outgoing captain MS Dhoni being the leading contenders.
Since making his debut in 2012, Rahane has played 72 ODIs for India. He has opened the innings 42 times while came out to bat at number four 20 times. However, unlike Test cricket he has failed to write his name in any of the spots.
His stats don’t do him a favour either. When you are born in Kohli-De Villiers era, an ODI average of 32.88 and a strike-rate of less than 80, will bring you under continuous scrutiny. That’s exactly what has happened with Rahane. His last century in ODI cricket came two years back in 2014 but due to the injuries to Rohit Sharma and poor form of Shikhar Dhawan, Rahane has managed to keep his place in the side.
However, things have changed in last six months. The team management has an attractive opening option in KL Rahul who has emerged as a genuine match-winner. Even though Rahane scored 91 runs in the warm-up game against England, Shikhar Dhawan too scored 63 runs and the team management may be tempted to go with a right hand-left combination.
This pushes Rahane to his second most preferred position of number 4. However, things get tricky here. Since the 2015 ODI World Cup, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has desired to bat up the order on multiple occasions. After a match against New Zealand in October last year, he admitted that his ability to rotate-strike has reduced and batting at number 4 gives him a better opportunity to build an innings.
Now Yuvraj Singh is also back in the squad and is most likely to fill the number 5 slot which leaves Rahane competing with Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav for number 6 slot and he definitely loses this battle to because of Panedy’s hard-hitting abilities and Jadhav’s utility with the ball.
So, does that mean, Rahane wil not even be a part of the playing XI? Well, don’t jump to a conclusion yet. During his press conference on Sunday, Indian cricket team’s coach Anil Kumble said that Rahane will bat in the top order.
This could be made possible if neither Rahane nor MS Dhoni bats at number 4. If Rahane opens the innings for India against England, KL Rahul could be pushed at number 4 followed by Dhoni and Yuvraj at 5 and 6. Rahul played at that spot for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the previous edition of IPL.
This will be a win-win situation for team India and will allow the coach and captain to take the field with their six best batsmen. To find out what actually happens, we’ll have to wait till Sunday.