Gollapudi: What Vijay Shankar brings for India at No. 4

Vijay Shankar brings out a lofted shot AFP/Getty

On Saturday, against Afghanistan, Vijay Shankar batted at No. 4 for the first time in his ODI career. It was the most hotly debated position when the Indian World Cup squad was announced in April, and ended - at least officially - when Vijay got there ahead of the other contenders. Now, although he has played just two matches in the tournament so far, the Indian think tank has opted to invest in Vijay, who is primarily being looked at as a batting allrounder.

Let's see where he stands at the moment and what can he do to make that role his.

Did Vijay prove his worth at No. 4?

If you are looking for a yes-or-no answer, then nope. But he showed enough promise for the team management to remain optimistic. Before the Afghanistan match, Vijay had batted only six times in ten matches for India. He had the starts, but he hadn't converted them.

In Southampton last Saturday, Vijay walked in at a crucial point in the game. Rohit Sharma had gone very early, and KL Rahul had pulled a stroke from his T20 toolkit to abruptly nip in the bud a developing partnership with Virat Kohli.

Kohli would likely have told Vijay: "Stay with me. No need to panic." Vijay paid heed. He was patient and did not do anything silly or fancy. He scored his first boundary - a firm cover drive off Rahmat Shah - on the 22nd delivery he faced. There was an early scare, though, when Rashid Khan pitched a googly in his first over, but an inside edge defeated Afghanistan's review. Many batsmen fail to read Rashid off his hand, but Vijay did that comfortably, on the whole, mostly defending on the front foot and using his wrists deftly. Having played with Rashid at Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, Vijay probably had a fair grasp of Rashid's wiles.

And then?

Vijay failed to convert the start - again - just when he was on the cusp of playing the defining knock he would have wanted to, dreamed of. The kind of innings Kohli expected.

Let us talk about the shot: Vijay had spotted Rahmat (the bowler) placing a fine leg inside the circle, closer to square leg. He moved outside the line of the ball to sweep fine, missed, ball hit the pad and he was trapped lbw despite reviewing, more in hope than anything else.

So another chance wasted?

If you dig into Vijay's numbers, you'll notice that there's a pattern to his dismissals. Vijay's dot-ball percentage in his first 20 deliveries is a healthy 42.3%, which is actually low at the start of an innings. In the last two years, only four other batsmen average a lower dot-ball percentage than Vijay in that phase. Among those to have faced at least 100 balls across innings, Hardik Pandya is the next best Indian within that parameter.

Yet, despite getting off the blocks in a safe fashion, Vijay's strike rate is just 92. Is that enough for a No. 4 who needs to be a bit more robust in ticking the score over? Unfortunately, the best No. 4 India can have is their best batsman, who prefers to bat at No. 3 - Kohli. If Vijay continues to bat at No. 4, one thing he cannot afford to carry on doing is stack up the dots in the second half of the innings, something MS Dhoni has been guilty of doing in the recent past.

So does he have the temperament for a No. 4?

Let us hear an expert.

"Vijay Shankar is a nice package for India and can contribute nicely in all three facets of the game. But I am not convinced that No. 4 is the best position for him to bat," Michael Hussey said. "No. 4 is a crucial position reserved for one of the most complete players, good players of pace, spin, good under pressure, someone with experience to handle all the different situations that that position throws up. Perhaps Vijay Shankar could develop into that player in the future."

Will India stick with Vijay?

The other two choices are Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant. However, India are likely to stick with Vijay because he can deliver a few good overs in helpful conditions, as he showed against Pakistan, and is a good fielder. The key for Vijay would be to bat with a free mind - not think about his spot. He has a fluent technique and good wrists to manouevre spin. The short ball is still work in progress, but Vijay has the ability to accelerate and can clear the boundary.

His challenge then is?

Bat with a clear mind.

Stat inputs from Shiva Jayaraman