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Sanjay Manjrekar

Will India find their ideal Nos. 4 and 5 before the World Cup?

They don't have a whole lot else to do before the tournament

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
For a batting country like India, it's surprising that the search for Nos. 4 and 5 in the one-day team has been so prolonged.
Every match for India in this Asia Cup, and the games between now and the World Cup, will be about their preparation for that tournament, next summer in England. Not that there's much to do in terms of preparation; it's just about finding two good batsmen in reasonable form at Nos. 4 and 5 by then.
India as a cricket team are at their best in the one-day format. The results speak for themselves. Also, when it comes to one-day cricket, India's performance and their dominance is not restricted to home or Asian conditions. Unlike the Test team, India's one-day team is truly global in its winning ways.
So, not many matters to fix but just the space in the line-up after Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and just before MS Dhoni.
At this stage, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, and from outside the Asia Cup squad, Shreyas Iyer, seem to be contenders for the two spots.
I know 50-overs cricket must be kept separate from Tests but considering India's problems overseas in Tests, I believe that Rahul needs to be kept in the mix in all cricket that India plays. He also seems more easily malleable than Ajinkya Rahane when it comes to adjusting between white- and red-ball cricket.
Interestingly, it is Jadhav's bowling that puts him ahead in the race at this stage. Ideally no one's second skill should be given that much significance if their primary skill is not exceptional. But India have two certainties in their two wristspinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, and there is a need for a third seamer - ideally a genuine one, but with Hardik Pandya available, it's hard to not pick him in the team, even if he is not a guaranteed ten-overs bowler. That's where Jadhav's offspin adds value, which cannot be taken lightly.
And that's why, as of today, he is a front-runner for one of those spots. Even if India decide to pick a genuine, pure seamer in place of Pandya, you still need someone to bowl five overs as cover for one of the five main bowlers having a bad day.
I thought Rayudu was brilliant in the last IPL. There was quality in his batting, and the selectors must be complimented for giving him another break in the Indian team despite his age and issues with the yo-yo test.
Rayudu has the ability to put the ball in the gaps and pick up singles at the start of an innings, a quality needed for someone who has to bat in the middle stage of a one-day innings. He seems a battle-hardened performer, but the question remains if he can be as effective in English conditions.
I was surprised that the selectors picked Karthik again for a 50-overs tournament. We have seen him enough to know that he is at his best when he does not have too much time to think and has to start belting the ball from the word go. T20 is the format for Karthik, if you ask me.
Manish Pandey missed a great chance - incidentally, not his first - when he could not carry his form after his hundred in Australia. His inconsistency bothers me as much as his batting technique does. The latter is an aspect that tends to come into play overseas. He would not be my first pick for the World Cup squad.
I would like to have another good look at Iyer. He has all the gears needed for a No. 4 or 5. He can rotate strike with five fielders inside the circle, looks a good player of spin, and has the big game needed if he is batting in the last ten overs.
Iyer has an awkward defensive style to balls on off stump. I would never bat him in the top three overseas, but it's worthwhile trying him at four and five.
Eventually India will find their middle-order batsmen, but even if they don't find the ideal ones, they are still a very good side, with game-changers in their two young wristspinners and the player who bats at No. 3.

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