Sanjay Manjrekar

No batsman has shown the consistency and ability to be a clear pick for Nos. 4 and 5 for India

Vijay Shankar? Ambati Rayudu? Kedar Jadhav? Rishabh Pant? Who will make it?

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
The Indian team management and the national selectors are getting flak from the fans for too much experimentation with the playing XI in the matches preceding the World Cup.
It's an understandable angst, especially when after all that effort to look for various options, India are still unsure of their No. 4.
Virat Kohli has hinted that there is just one position open in the World Cup XI, so Kedar Jadhav, I guess, could be No. 5.
Here's what I think: with the experimentation, if India wanted a settled team well before the World Cup, they would have had one immediately after the Asia Cup. Ambati Rayudu and Jadhav would have been the certain Nos. 4 and 5, with Jadhav's side-arm offspin an added bonus.
But then India would have also been under the illusion that Ravindra Jadeja is a great value-add to the ODI team with his all-round ability, and Vijay Shankar would not have emerged as a tempting batting alternative to Rayudu as a No. 4 batsman who, if needed, could bowl a do-or-die final over in a tight game.
Making players feel secure in teams while still looking for attractive options outside it is a fine balance that the team management and selectors must maintain. Excess of either is not good.
This team management does have the tendency to go a little overboard with their chopping and changing. Maybe this is Kohli's tendency more than anyone else's. His decisions appear very similar to how he looks on the field - intense, animated, very energetic, almost restless.
Dhoni's calm and restful demeanour on the field reflected his team selections. He hardly made any changes to his team when he was India captain. In the last IPL, his championship-winning Chennai Super Kings was one of the most settled XIs of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Kohli rarely plays the same side in two consecutive games.
That India still don't have obvious and exciting Nos. 4 and 5, like Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina when they were around, is more the fault of players who have been given these chances than those who gave it to them.
Not one of the seven to eight players tried in those positions has shown exceptional ability and, importantly, consistency in their performances in the most batting-friendly format. For a batting country like India, this is as surprising as it's disappointing.
Manish Pandey showed promise few years back, but after scoring that wonderful hundred in Australia at No. 4 three years ago, he has averaged just 26, wasting some terrific opportunities against New Zealand at home immediately after getting that hundred.
It's said about him and a few others like him that they were never given a decent run nor did they have a settled position in the batting order. Well, the fact of life and cricket teams is that until you have established yourself, you won't get a settled position. That's for people like Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli or Dhoni, who, once they got a big score in the early stages of their careers, kept at it to reaffirm their potential.
Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Rayudu and Co never did this enough for the selectors to keep faith in them. Jadhav is a little better off here and his offspinners help him out.
The problem with all the contenders we have seen for Nos. 4 and 5 has been their consistency and ability.
The World Cup is in England, and even if it's the white ball, it is not going to come in straight lines. This is where all these candidates worry me.
After a good score, the way Rayudu gets bowled off a ball that has moved off the seam ruins all the good work he had done until then. That's why I remain unconvinced by him.
Same with Jadhav. If India are 20 for 3, it's hard to see him handling a spell of good seam bowling in England with composure, showing a good defence, ticking off singles whenever he can, building a partnership and then, in the last few overs, going for the big shots.
Whether its Pandey, Rayudu, Karthik, Jadhav, Rishabh Pant or Vijay, they all depend too much on the big shot to get out of a tight corner.
This approach is unnecessarily high risk when you want five runs an over, unless you are a prodigiously gifted attacking batsman. From what I have seen, Pant tends to miss half the time when trying to hit big.
The current issue with India's likely World Cup team is that only the captain can bat as per the needs of the situation. Rohit tries but isn't as successful; Shikhar plays more for survival than trying to lead the team to a win with the bat; and Dhoni has an approach that keeps us all on the edge of our seats.
Kohli is like a warranty card for India. When you watch him in 50-over cricket, can you slot him into a category of a defensive or an attacking batsman? No. He is just a champion batsman who wins games for his teams. When the team needs five runs an over, he will try to get five an over and not ten, like others around him seem to try.
I am hearing some state-level coaches murmur that whatever the format, young batsmen these days want to project themselves as T20 batsmen lest they get slotted as non-T20 players.
This is interesting and perhaps one of the reasons why India don't have a dependable No. 4. What's really baffling is that with someone as iconic and inspirational as Kohli around, why don't others want to bat like him?
My choice for Nos. 4 and 5 are Vijay and Jadhav respectively, but I must confess I pick them a bit grudgingly.
And here's something I believe: whatever team the selectors pick, India will go to this World Cup with a soft underbelly, which will be their middle order.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar