South Africa have the renowned Mr 360, ABDV walking in at #4. Australia, have the option of calling upon the likes of Glenn Maxwell, or even a Chris Lynn. England can send in a Jos Buttler. Come WC 2019, who will India turn to at #4?
Its taken a few years, but by now, even the most casual of cricket fans have realized that ODI cricket has changed a lot since the last time India got its hands on the WC trophy. Apart from the 2 new balls, and slow and steady infusion of T20 batting skills, mindset and expectations - its the shift in powerplay rules that has required batting teams to re-structure their approach towards constructing their innings to make best use of the 300 scoring opportunities that the ODI game offers.
5 out-fielders in the last 10 overs, and 4 in the middle 30 directly translates into smarter teams recognizing the need to shift their risk-taking and acceleration earlier than the historical ODI approach. England, have shown an even more courageous method of utilizing their batting depth by pushing for maximum runs, from ball 1 to right to 300; instead of waiting for the "death" overs to accelerate. Sooner or later, more teams and batsmen are going to start recognizing the benefits of being pro-active in the pursuit of big runs - at least to the team score, if not to the individuals.
So what are the building blocks required to have an ODI batting line-up that can "go big" with the maximum frequency and consistency? Everybody knows the importance of having high quality batsmen in the top 3, guys who can handle pressure, class bowling, an ability to attack as well as set the platform. This is common knowledge since the days when Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana ran amok at the 1996 World Cup. Or even going back to the pioneering Kiwis and Mark Greatbatch in the 1992 version. A team absolutely needs class at the top of the batting lineup in order to be a contender.
The need for a reliable "finisher" in the middle order - a power hitter who can deliver boundaries when needed, and be more reliable than an Afridian lottery ticket, is also apparent.
But for the 2019 World Cup, this is not going to be enough. Teams are routinely going past 330 with ease, and threatening 400 with increasing frequency. And for a batting line-up to achieve such high watermarks regularly, what they are able to do in the 30 to 40 over phase, starts to matter a lot. You need to have batsmen with a low deliveries per boundary stat, in the #4 and 5 slot. Especially given the likelihood of the tracks for the World cup being on the flatter side.
It is increasingly clear that MS Dhoni is a shadow of the legendary ODI bat he once was and is simply not good enough to create or even sustain momentum at this pivotal slot in the batting line-up. And Rahane may have played a quality innings in the first ODI against SA, but he isn't the answer either. Manish Pandey is another aspirant, but thus far in his career, he's shown himself to be a poor man's Kohli at best - not exactly a power hitter with a high boundary striking abilities. And to be bluntly honest, someone like a Dinesh Karthik never was.
For all of Kedar Jadhav's slingy round-arm cleverness with ball in hand, his batting doesn't inspire too much confidence that he can do consistently deliver the goods, especially away from home. Jadhav's opportunistic placement-driven batting style does offer potential - his skill-set and batting tools could be effective in the middle phase with only 4 fielders operating outside the inner ring. The question whether he can do it against tougher opposition, away from Indian tracks remains unanswered at this point. And the sad reality of Indian team selection is that given his lack of "seniority", he is unlikely to get a proper extended run at the position.
Who then, will Team India turn to, for the all-important #4 slot in the batting order? Given that the rest of the team is stacked with quality and class - on both sides of the ball, the choice of #4 may well end up determining India's fate in WC 2019. Especially given the Indian team think tank's resolute faith in allowing the top 3 batsmen the luxury of pursuing big runs while intentionally sacrificing the opportunity for early momentum.