Unfair trials add to woes after Iyer injury

The more things change, certain things remain the same. In the context of India’s ODI team, No 4 has remained an Achilles’ heel since World Cup 2015. Players, coaches, strategies and philosophies have changed. Not concerns over No 4, with another World Cup inching closer.

After World Cup 2019, where India fielded four players in that position in nine matches, it seemed as if the team management was zeroing in on Shreyas Iyer. The Mumbai batter did not disappoint before getting injured. Of the 42 ODIs he played, Iyer came in at No 4 on 22 occasions and made 805 runs at 47.35, which is higher than his career average of 46.60. Both his centuries came in that position.

Although teams like Australia detected an apparent weakness in Iyer’s game against short-pitched bowling, on Indian pitches he was a good option, until suffering a back injury which needed a surgery in London. Although the BCCI has announced that Iyer is making progress, his participation in the World Cup is far from certain.

And this is where India have struggled. They are yet to find a suitable boy for the position, which is a pivotal one in 50-over cricket. Not an out and out slogger, yet who can accelerate and hold fort as required, taking on spin and pace, rotating strike are some of the requirements of this job. Truth be told, other than Iyer, India have not even tried out someone by giving that person a fair run in this format.

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In the West Indies, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel and Sanju Samson batted there in the three-match series. That was difficult to understand because it suggested that the team management doesn’t have a No 4 of its choice at this stage, with a maximum of nine ODIs to play before the World Cup.

India actually gave Iyer a few successive games in the same position. In six ODIs against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka starting last December, he batted at No 4 five times. He got injured at this stage and aggravated it after being included in the Test XI against Australia in March.

India have gone back to the musical chair system since. In the next nine games up to the final ODI against the West Indies, six batters played in that position. One of them, KL Rahul, also got injured. The rest including Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Pandya, Axar and Samson did not play enough at No 4 to judge whether they fit the bill.

Samson made a sparkling half-century in the final ODI in the Caribbean and is expected to get a few games in the Asia Cup. But he is also a work in progress rather than being a finished product. If he gets a few runs and Iyer recovers before the World Cup, it would put the selectors in a dilemma because the latter may not get enough game time to get back in shape.

India reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2015 and 2019 because their bowlers did a great job and the top three accounted for a huge chunk of the runs scored. Problems in batting started after them. The latest trend of trying out several players without allowing them the chance to settle down is not the best way out of this situation. India need a solution and a quick one at that.

Also Read: Cameos are Not Enough, Samson Must do Better

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