India probably have the most fearsome top three of any ODI side at the moment, but their middle order has been a problem area since the end of the 2015 World Cup. MS Dhoni is no longer the explosive force he was in his pomp, and around him India have tried numerous options from Nos. 4 to 7, without quite settling on one combination. Who should fill those contentious positions at next year's World Cup in England? Our writers and experts offer their solutions.
Aakash Chopra: No ready-made answers available
Ambati Rayudu has just got back into the side; he has looked promising, but how he is going to perform overseas? We will find out in good time. However, you cannot look at an alternative for Rayudu assuming that he won't do well. And if he doesn't do well overseas, there will be no time left anyway. The second guy in line for the No. 4 spot is Manish Pandey, who has hardly been tested over the last 12-18 months. He has not got enough opportunities to go one way or the other.
Dhoni is Dhoni. He is going to be there. India have left it way too late for anyone to earn their place in Dhoni's stead. Kedar Jadhav will be your No. 6 even though he is not your ideal finisher. He has been effective, but No. 6 is one place too low for him; yet I don't see that changing either. Rishabh Pant wasn't given enough opportunities, so we still don't know whether he can be an alternative for someone.
My XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Karthik Krishnaswamy: Drop Chahal
England are the pace-setters in ODI batting right now, and it isn't just because they have a lot of hitting talent. They have that, but also incredible depth - all the way to No. 10 or 11 - which frees up their batsmen to go and hit. My solution for India's middle-order issues would be to lengthen the batting by playing Ravindra Jadeja at the expense of one of the two wristspinners, probably Yuzvendra Chahal. I know the wristspinners are seen as a key weapon in the middle overs, but I'm not convinced Chahal brings that much more to the bowling table than Jadeja. I would also drop Dhoni.
My XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul at 3/Ambati Rayudu at 4, Virat Kohli, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Sidharth Monga: It's too late
It might be too late to look for a solution. Dhoni has long been an issue, but the selectors have not tried anyone else, and now all the eggs seem to be in that basket. They can only hope Rayudu, Jadhav and Hardik Pandya stay fit, and that Dhoni's experience and presence help him pull through. Rayudu is the first man in the last 22 months to score a century from outside the top three, and Jadhav and Pandya provide India depth in both bowling and batting.
It is a delicate equilibrium: if Jadhav goes out, India don't have the bowling cushion; if Pandya is not there, the middle order is more circumspect in pressure situations because not much batting follows them. The only solution right now is for Rayudu to keep appearing for and clearing his yo-yo tests, for the physios to keep lengthening Jadhav's compromised hamstrings, and for Pandya's workload to be managed carefully.
My XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 MS Dhoni/Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Varun Shetty: India already have the answer
India have got to start backing the batsmen who have performed best at No. 4 over the last year. As things stand, those would be Ambati Rayudu as first choice and Dinesh Karthik as the back up. They are two experienced players who, more or less, play similar roles. With that base covered, I would pick Pant as the wicketkeeper at No. 5. With Jadhav as a legitimate third-spinning option these days, India can play both Pandya and Jadeja in the lower middle order, which gives them formidable power in the slog overs, but they will have to leave a frontline spinner out. This is the solution in a world where Dhoni can be dropped from the ODI side too. More realistically, I would have Pant come in for Pandey to have variety in the reserves. India can still keep the aforementioned depth with Dhoni in the XI.
My XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Nagraj Gollapudi: Why not Kohli at No. 4?
Post victories in the Asia Cup and at home against West Indies, Kohli has said Rayudu is "designed" to play the No. 4 role, is "intelligent" to play according to the situation and provides "balance" to the batting order. But what if Rayudu fails? He has experience, but he has not played overseas much. What if he were to struggle in Australia and New Zealand, two big series outside India, leading to the World Cup?
To counter such a scenario, one way India can be ready is by keeping Kohli's position flexible. Being the best batsman, he ought to get maximum play time. But if both Rohit, the other key batsman, and Kohli were to fall in quick succession, who plays the anchor role? Based on the overs left Dhoni will bat No. 5 onwards, but even he understands his bat is no more the power blade that scythed through bowling attacks earlier.
If Kohli bats at No. 4, with Rayudu at 3, the India captain can not only provide intensity middle overs onwards, but also give Dhoni the cushion to play aggressively. India ought to test some combinations in the remaining games, especially overseas. And stay less rigid about the batting positions.
My XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Ambati Rayudu, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 MS Dhoni, 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Yuzvendra Chahal, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Jasprit Bumrah