India in New Zealand 2013-14 January 17, 2014

India seek clarity over No. 4 slot

The New Zealand tour will give India a glimpse of the man who could possibly take over from Yuvraj Singh as the first choice No. 4 ODI batsman in time to come

Dravid: Good performance will help young India players stake a claim for World Cup

This trip to New Zealand will provide several young India players their first taste of international cricket in the country. India will also get to play at some of the venues for the 2015 World Cup. Apart from those broader experiences, this tour will also give India a glimpse of the man who could possibly take over from Yuvraj Singh as the first choice No. 4 ODI batsman in time to come.

Who will be that man? Will it be the back-up No. 4 Suresh Raina, who has long wanted to bat up the order? Will it be Ajinkya Rahane, who after quite some time on the sidelines, has slowly started to exert his presence? Or will it be Ambati Rayudu, who has travelled with the squad without playing much?

During the home series against Australia in October, India had sent Raina ahead of Yuvraj to try and increase their options for the No. 4 position, with an aim to give the backup sufficient exposure ahead of the World Cup. MS Dhoni had said that if Yuvraj's form and health held up till the World Cup, he would continue to be the preferred No. 4. Only two short series later, against West Indies and South Africa, Yuvraj has been dropped for lack of form, and the New Zealand tour has become a lot more important for the claimants to the No. 4 spot.

Had Yuvraj travelled to New Zealand, he and Raina would have completed the first-choice top five, leaving no room for Rahane or Rayudu, barring an injury or acutely wretched form. Now at least one of them, if not both, will get their chance over five ODIs.

While Rahane finally got a run in Tests in South Africa following Sachin Tendulkar's retirement, in ODIs, their positions appear far from settled. Rayudu debuted and played four ODIs compared to Rahane's one on the Zimbabwe tour last July, and came in at No. 4 each time. Even Cheteshwar Pujara, who has somehow barely been in the ODI framework, played more games than Rahane on that trip. However, in South Africa, Rahane was the chosen replacement when an injured Yuvraj missed the Durban ODI. He then made 47, 15, 51* and 96 in the two Tests, providing the kind of solidity which India have generally lacked at No. 6 since the departure of Sourav Ganguly in 2008.

Rahane's relatively tight technique, as compared to Rayudu's, can be very useful at No. 4, especially with the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in mind. His ability to build an innings can even free up Virat Kohli to further play his naturally aggressive game at No. 3. Rahane has also shown in Twenty20s, both domestic and international, that he can score quickly. How well he can balance the changing demands a long No. 4 ODI knock brings will have to be seen.

Where Rayudu scores over Rahane is on the power front. He has demonstrated several times in the IPL what a destructive hitter he can be. Compared to Rahane, Rayudu is more like Yuvraj in the sense that his natural instinct is to attack. He will defend the good deliveries, but that will be after reluctantly concluding that he has no scoring options. Like Yuvraj, he can be pretty nervy early in his innings. He has had more than his share of issues in the past, but with a supportive state association and a steady IPL stint, he has become much calmer. With the new fielding restrictions, Rayudu could be another link in the batting order of power-hitters on flat home pitches, although Rahane appears to be the more viable all-condition option.

One of these two could stake a strong claim over No. 4 in the New Zealand ODIs, but it is possible that neither might, especially if the team management decides to give the preferred backup Raina more exposure in the slot. Raina batted four innings at No. 4 in the Australia series. Each time he got a start, and each time he did not convert it into a big score, with a highest of 39 in Pune that was cut short by his favoured heave, a mis-hit to third man. Whether Raina has the appetite to bat long in ODIs has been questioned in the past, but Dhoni had countered that by saying he needed to be given more time to adapt, having batted at lower positions for most of his career.

Apart from the above three batsmen, two left-field options could be Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni is no stranger to left-field. He stuck and persevered with Jadeja in the XI while the world joked and laughed. Few are laughing now; Jadeja's bowling and fielding skills are there to be seen. He has come across as a limited batsman at international level, especially against the short ball. But two things must be said in his favour. He bats way down the order for him to have any time to think about constructing an innings. And as far as the short ball goes, the back-up No. 4's problems with it are almost legendary now, but they haven't removed Raina from the reckoning.

Binny is untested with both bat and ball at international level. He comes across as a safer and more assured hitter than Jadeja in the IPL, but that tells us little of his ability to bat up the order. He does have seven first-class hundreds, the same as Jadeja. Dhoni has said that Binny can be called upon to score quick, late runs, to go with his swing bowling. Probably that is the only role the captain has for Binny at the moment, but one never knows, especially with Dhoni. He has made a successful opener out of a man who disappointed for so long in the middle order. Who does he have in mind as India's future ODI No. 4?

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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  • ESPN on January 25, 2014, 21:47 GMT

    Playing eleven 1. S. Dhawan 2. G.gambhir 3 Virat 4 . Pujara/khartick / rayudu 5. Yuvraj 6. Rohit 7. Dhoni 8 jadeja/harbhajan 9. A. Nayar / irfan 10. Mh. Shami 11. Zaheer Virat yuvraj and rohit can combilely ball middle over at tandom as already seen in world cup 2011 and yuvraj is quick to finish his over at tandom with harbhajan . Zaheer is experiered and shami balls quick and nayar is good at bolwing and provide batting strenghth down the order

  • Reg on January 19, 2014, 0:01 GMT

    Next Sana - your comparisons are certainly food for thought, though your ranking Anderson ahead of Kohli is . . . eccentric, shall we say?

    The tour is a most exciting prospect, and I have no idea how I'm going to get any work done over the next few weeks. I hope our guests enjoy their visit very much, and that they can forgive me for expressing the hope that we give them a thorough thrashing. But even if that happens the new ICC proposal for tiers in test cricket means the team members will have something to tell their grand-children - that they were part of the last ever tour to New Zealand by a full Indian cricket team.

    We'll really miss you guys, and hopefully you'll miss us at least a little, but then the mighty dollar must come first, as we all know . . .

  • Sree on January 18, 2014, 22:13 GMT

    This is extremely disgusting.With a country of so much batting talent at stake(forget just No:4 specialists) - Why would one try a project on a player who is never going to be No:4 batsmen in test or ODI format. Its crystal clear what Dhoni's policy is - Get all the seniors out of vicinity for asserting total control and dhonigiri. I am not worried abt any of them though except Yuvraj. For some reason, Yuvraj after so many years of ODi experience and show case of match winning capabilities - has been never allowed to cement his place. Everytime he fights his way out back to the team (purely on performance) and then it takes only 3-4 failures to be kicked out again. The same benchmarks are never followed for Mr Dhoni himself nor his favourites !! God save Indian cricket

  • rohit on January 18, 2014, 14:34 GMT

    can draft someone like samson/aprajith/kedar jadhav/utthappa/rahul/pujara/pandey/mandeep/saha at no 4 dhawan kohli sharma utthapa/pandey/samson dhoni raina jadeja irfan shami aaron umesh for world cup

  • Dhairy on January 18, 2014, 13:34 GMT

    To become superpower in world & win worldcup2015 India have to have genuine fast bowling all rounder. India have Jadeja & Aswin as spin bowling allrounders but not enough to play in NZ/SA/ AUS/ENG/WI. all teams have one/ two fast bowling allrounders as their key sucess. ENG-Bopara & Stokes SA-Kallis & Maklaran AUS- Faulkner & Watson WI-Sammy & Polard & Bravo. So I think India should use Binny in all 5 ODIs and after that bring R.Dhavan/Nayar/Shukla/Bhatiya as another allrounder.

  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2014, 13:32 GMT

    Sanju Samson is next TENDULKAR

  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2014, 11:41 GMT

    If Rahane has to be played then he should be tried as an opener with Dhawan, Rohit can handle the things at 4, with Dhoni and Raina following him, I Dhoni opts to play Rayudu, then Rayudu can play at no 4 position, Raina should be played at no 6, coz his technique isn't suited for short pich bowling and the slog overs he can go for some risky hits...My playing eleven would be

    1. Rahane 2. Dhawan 3. Virat 4. Rohit 5. Dhoni. 6. Raina 7. Jaddu/Ashwin/Binny 8. Bhuvneshwar 9. Shami 10. Pandey 11. Aaron

  • KISH on January 18, 2014, 11:09 GMT

    Ideal 11 for India, in my opinion, should be (this is regardless of the people selected in the squad): 1.Dhawan 2.Rohit 3.Kohli 4.Karthik 5.Rahane 6.Raina 7.Dhoni 8.Irfan Pathan 9.Jadeja 10.B.Kumar 11.Aaron . Reserves: Yuvraj, Ashwin, Binny.

  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2014, 11:07 GMT

    The obvious choice is Pujara. He has great technique, can accelerate as well as build an innings. Otherwise Dhoni or D Karthik or Rahane. Not Stuart Binny or Rayadu who don't easily make the team even. Jadeja should bat at 8, Irfan Pathan at 7.

  • Abhijith Yadav on January 18, 2014, 11:07 GMT

    @Aravind_verified: I dont know if you are joking (I strongly feel you are), but if you are not, then it is Rohit Sharma

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