October 17, 2013

How soon can India find a new No. 4?

It is important for the game that India remain competitive at Test cricket. Their ability to find a replacement for Tendulkar will go a long way to determine if they succeed

Kohli looks the most likely candidate to succeed Tendulkar at No. 4, but his Test average overseas isn't much to shout about yet © BCCI

It's a cliché to say that a player's worth to his team is only fully appreciated in his absence. A cliché that's not always true.

India don't have to wait until they take to the field against South Africa in December for them to understand the difficulties their Test team will face in the post-Tendulkar era. After 24 years, 200 matches, 51 centuries and countless comparisons to Bradman, India's selectors are perfectly aware of the 5ft 5in chasm he will leave in the heart of their Test batting.

There are reasons to believe a smooth transition could be made. Other members of India's recent golden generation of batting have been deemed irreplaceable, yet it was the younger players who took their place who built the foundation of runs for last year's 4-0 hammering of Australia. Of them, Virat Kohli's performances are starting to match expectations - press expectations if not quite his own. Cheteshwar Pujara has the temperament of a genuine Test match opener and a cover drive that could make angels weep. Whilst Shikhar Dhawan arrived in international cricket with a mountain of runs and a moustache that hints at an outrageous degree of self-confidence. Clearly India's production line of batting talent is still rolling.

But if India need a warning of the difficulties they might face, they only have to look at England's squad for the coming Ashes series. It has been two and a half years since England last toured Australia. Two and a half years since Paul Collingwood retired from Test cricket, during which they have failed to find a replacement for him at No. 6 in their batting order.

You could point out that England don't quite have the depth of batting strength available to India, but then replacing Collingwood shouldn't quite be the same problem as finding the new Tendulkar.

Collingwood, of course, was an underrated player and one who does fit the cliché of only being fully appreciated after he was gone. A dependable presence at six, capable of economically bowling the half dozen overs that get you through to the second new ball, and a fantastic pair of hands at backward point. Perhaps not a CV that makes you a regular in the back-page headlines, but when taken together the sum of his parts add up to a whole that England have singularly failed to fill.

In the 32 Tests since Collingwood retired, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Ravi Bopara, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor, Samit Patel and Joe Root have all been shoved into and out of the No. 6 position by the national selectors. A succession of seaworthy batsmen have disappeared into English cricket's Bermuda Triangle, where, in over 50 innings, none of them has made a century.

The last player given a chance, Chris Woakes, made his Test debut in August but was left out of the Ashes squad only a month later. Instead, another candidate, Gary Ballance, has been included. It's hardly the continuity of selection that England pride themselves on.

India's problem is that Tendulkar leaves open the even more pivotal position of four just as they have to face Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis in their own backyard. For all the quality of India's new generation of batsmen, their prolific run-making has mainly come in home conditions. Between them Kohli, Vijay and Pujara have played just 16 overseas Tests, with a combined average in the low twenties. Far from an ideal situation in which to introduce Ajinkya Rahane or Rohit Sharma as Tendulkar's replacement.

For all the hype that surrounds the Ashes, it's the Test series between South Africa and India - the on- and off-field powerhouses of cricket respectively - that is the more significant. It goes without saying that it is hugely important for the game that India remain both competitive in, and interested in, overseas Test tours. Their ability to find a new No. 4 quicker than England have replaced their No. 6 will go a long way to determine if they succeed.

Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sagar on October 19, 2013, 22:39 GMT

    Does it really matter that who will come at number 4 ? or is it because Sachin used to come at number 4 so need a victim whom we can compare with Sachin in coming months. What about the spot of VVS , the savior of Indian Batting line up inside/outside India. Had it been filled? It's too early to prize The God's batting position to anyone. I believe , Indian Team Think tank would experiment with various combination of number 4,5 and 6 for a year or two .

  • Dummy4 on October 19, 2013, 5:54 GMT

    No man is indispensable.Like those before him,the majestic Tendulkar will soon say good bye,and be watching cricket instead of playing.I remembered the fearless Sunil Gavaskar,one of the greatest of all batsmen. In his days he tore the hearts of all bowlers.It didn't matter who the customer was.But his tenure also came to an end.The fact is,nothing will stop the continuation or the process of life.Its nature's way.Looking at the inventory,there is a rich arsenal of players.Kholi,Rohit Sharma,Pujara,Sehwag and more.There should be no room for commotion.

  • Ashok on October 18, 2013, 13:34 GMT

    Dave, While you have complimented the achievements of Dhawan with military moustache, Kohli with prodigious scoring in the ODI's & Pujara's super temperament, yet did not designate any for these 3 for #4 spot. In my opinion both Pujara & Kohli can qualify easily for #4 based on their form, performance & record. Kohli is one of the most prolific scorers in the ODI's in the world & his recent 100* vs. the Aussies in 52 balls adds to his credentials. Pujara has dominated the Test scene so completely that he leads all Indian batsmen with a Test average of 65 in 11 Tests. Pujara is one of the few batsmen in the World with 3 Triple centuries in first class Cricket. He is easily the best Test sheet anchor- hence rule him out for opening. Of course Dhawan is a fine & aggressive opening batsman. His likely opening partner would be very talented Rohit Sharma.So the opening spots are fixed. It leaves either Kohli or Pujara taking the #4 spot as both are good- so #4 spot can be filled with either.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 12:04 GMT

    Quick note, Collingwood batted at number 5 for England normally. He batted at 4 for a while until KP said he wanted to, and then he batted at 5 until the end of his career. He batted at 6 27 times in test more often than not when a nightwatchman was used. India with pick Rohit Sharma at 5 and move Rahane up one, or Gambhir at 3 and move Kohli down one.

    And Benjamin, England have a sensible way of picking players, the trouble they have had post Collingwood is that no one has played well enough to keep the spot.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 8:59 GMT

    Barking the wrong tree! India has quite a few batsmen who can play at many different spots; including No. 4. Why so special about it? Just because Sachin used to come at No. 4 ? Ridiculous. If at all there are doubts about batting, it is regarding the openers, especially for Test Matches.

    India's problem is in bowling. India has, as of now just half a bowler -- Bhuvi/ Why half? He is OK with only new ball. He still is not good enough for death bowling.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 8:09 GMT

    You were talking about England's no.6. What about India's, post Ganguly's retirement? Rainas and Yuvrajs have come and gone. But until now none has been able to cement the no.6 position

  • v on October 18, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    Sachin's #4 position is not crucial simply due to the legend's presence. He would have performed as well as he did at #4 anywhere else. But, the positions #3 & #4 are assigned to most dependable and most prolific batsmen in the squad. They not only score most runs, but also face max deliveries. In other words, it is not just the technique that is necessary for this position but also temperament. For India, Pujara is ideal #3, as he has been most dependable. The other batsman who scores lot of runs is Kohli and he has the temperamant too for #4 position. #5 can have other takers like Yuvraj or Rohit or Rahane or Raina.

  • James on October 18, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    I suppose it is not the question of whether Kohli is good enough to take over Tendulkar's position or not. It is also about the best position for Kohli to bat. No. 4 is also a specialised position. Of the current lot, possibly Rohit Sharma seems to be the best fit for it. Kohli has done well at number 5. The real problems is with their opening pair. Especiallyiif Gambhir doesnt recover his form. Dhawan- yes, but Vijay is not good enough. It may make more sense to go with Dhawan and Gambhir at the top of the order, Pujara at 3, Sharma at 4, Kohli at 5 and possibly Sehwag at 6, and Dhoni at 7. Misra at 8 followed by 3 seamers (B Kumar, Khan, and possibly Yadav) is possibly what the best India can come up with right now. Sehwag at 6 is always a risk work taking. Ashwin is not good enough to be a test bowler, and Jadeja is effective only on subcontinental tracks.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 3:18 GMT

    Rohit Sharma is best to fill no.4 spot. He can score out of india as well which Kohli lacks. Kohli can bat at no.3

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 3:10 GMT

    Dave, I hope no other so called 'best' India batsman is like Sachin, who can only bat in one position, 'No.4", and say he's an all round batsman! The guys should adopt the Dravid model instead - that is, being flexible in accordance with the needs of the team, and not to suit their own whims and fancies, as Sachin did! In fact, Sachin was the reason why India lost so many matches, before Dravid made the team. Because, Saxhin could only bat at No.4., there was no flexibility in the lineup to help out when difficult situations arose! No.4 is also the best spot to score a 100. At that position, he hoped the openers would always tire the fast bowlers, so he can come in and feed off the easy stuff - Sachin always wants everything easy. Dhoni should warn the young guys not to be so inflexible! Wherever they bat, work hard for their team, not for themselves! No one has Sachin's luck!