Other than being a curtain-raiser of sorts to kickstart the countdown to next year’s ODI World Cup, Asia Cup 2018 will also serve as a platform for the participating nations to assess their strengths and weaknesses, iron out any visible flaws and ascertain the core group of players who will be on the touring party to England next summer.
Defending champions India are no different as they have quite a few grey areas when it comes to their playing combination. Middle-order and the number 4 slot in particular has been a point of major concern for Virat Kohli‘s side and as many as 11 different batsmen have auditioned for the role in the last 36 months.
The position will gain all the more significance in the upcoming Asia Cup as skipper Kohli will not be available to score the bulk of runs for India and other batsmen will be expected to up their respective games when the tournament starts from September 15 in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
With stand-in captain Rohit Sharma and vice-captain Shikhar Dhawan certain to open the innings, KL Rahul will most likely take the number 3 slot vacated by Kohli’s absence. As such, there will be four batsmen who will be vying for the crucial number 4 slot throughout the duration of Asia Cup 2018 – Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik.
Keeping this background in mind, we assess as to which of the above-mentioned names will bat at No.4 for India in Asia Cup.
Note: The four batsmen have been assembled in descending order in terms of their likelihood of taking the No. 4 slot.
4. Dinesh Karthik
While the first half of year 2018 was stuff of dreams for Dinesh Karthik, the second half has been a bit of a nightmare so far. After the highs of leading India to a famous win in the Nidahas Trophy to captaining Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League, the Tamil Nadu veteran has endured a torrid time in England and has even lost his place to 20-year-old Rishabh Pant in the Test side.
The selectors did hand Karthik a lifeline, albeit a bit unexpectedly, when he was named in India’s 16-member squad for Asia Cup but it remains to be seen whether he is given a chance in the playing XI or not. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old remains a viable option to be picked as a specialist batsman given his experience and pedigree. The conditions in England have been tough to negotiate for most Indian batsmen and Karthik certainly has the ability of doing well in UAE’s rather ‘homely’ conditions, if given a go at number 4.
3. MS Dhoni
Ever since transforming himself from a swashbuckling finisher to an accumulator, MS Dhoni has time and again stated that he would like bat higher up the order for India and maximise his potential with the willow. There is certainly logic to this argument as the former captain remains one of the fittest players around and has the masterly ability of rotating the strike in the middle-overs. Also, batting at number 4 affords him the time to get his eye in and play the sheet anchor role by taking the game deep and batting till the very end.
Dhoni’s exploits for his beloved Chennai Super Kings in the IPL this year were also proof that the 37-year-old can roll back the years when on song and destroy any bowling lineup on his day. One feels that Asia Cup is best possible tournament for the team management to try Dhoni at two down as the sample size to judge his performance will also be substantial.
2. Ambati Rayudu
A certain Mayank Agarwal might not agree to this but Ambati Rayudu is proof of the fact that going through the grind in domestic cricket is worth its wait in gold as the veteran batsman has made his way back into the Indian one-day on the back of consistent displays over the course of past one year or so. His exhilarating batting for MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings this year might have helped though!
Rayudu plundered his way to more than 600 runs at a deadly strike rate in the IPL earlier this year and was rewarded with a place in India’s limited-overs sides for the tour of England but fate intervened and he was ultimately left out after failing the ‘Yo Yo’ test. Since then, the 32-year-old has worked hard on his fitness impressed with the bat in the recent Quadrangular Series. Rayudu has the technique and ability to make the number 4 slot his own if he is given a fair go at it.
1. Manish Pandey
Manish Pandey was a part of India’s Under-19 side that won the World Cup in 2008 under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. While the latter has gone on to establish himself as the world’s best batsman over the course of past decade, Pandey, whilst being equally talented, has only managed a handful appearances in limited-overs cricket for the senior team and is involved in the dog-fight between a number of players to stake a claim in India’s fragile middle-order ahead of the next year’s World Cup.
One feels that Asia Cup might just be the tournament for Pandey as he has been in sensational form leading up to the event in UAE. Having been named as the captain of India B side for last month’s Quadrangular Series, the 29-year-old amassed 306 runs with one century and two half-centuries and remained unbeaten every time he went out to bat. Given his purple run of form, it is likely that coach Ravi Shastri and captain Rohit Sharma will give Pandey the first go at number 4 and he will be itching to latch on to the chance.