The number four spot is one of the most crucial positions in the batting order. For starters, it requires someone who can anchor the innings even if a couple of wickets go down early. Secondly, if the openers get off to a good start, explosive abilities are needed to capitalise on the foundation which has been laid.
What India are looking for in their number four is a combination of the two. However, of late, too many players have been tried and discarded without giving them an extended run. Virat has finally budged from his stand that Ajinkya Rahane is the ‘third opener’. The Mumbaikar, on his part, has not disappointed.
Now that Rahane has delivered the goods in the first ODI against South Africa, it is only ideal that India should stick with him. Here are five reasons why Ajinkya Rahane should be India’s permanent number four in ODIs till the 2019 World Cup.
In the middle overs, with the field spread wide and four men patrolling the ropes, it is not easy to score a boundary very often. This is where running between the wickets becomes so essential. This, coupled with an odd boundary, keeps the run rate ticking. It is only after five overs or so that you realize that 25-30 runs have been added to the scoreboard without any risk being taken.
A masterly exhibition of the same was on display during the 189-run partnership between Kohli and Rahane in Durban. Interestingly, there were occasions when Rahane was pushing Virat for an extra run. This transferred momentum back in favour of India after they had lost two early wickets.
Belonging to the long lineage of Mumbai batsmen like Dilip Vengsarkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar who are well-known for their flawless techniques, Rahane carries the same qualities. He plays close to the body and meets the ball under his eyes.
The eyes of the 29-year-old are dead still on the point of contact with the ball. There have been many with the finest of techniques who have failed to make their mark. What makes Rahane special is that he remains calm and collected even in adverse circumstances.
The masterful manner in which he approached the chase in the first ODI is a fine example of his serene demeanour.
After Chris Morris failed to break the partnership between Kohli and Rahane in Kingsmead, he took to the age-old technique of unsettling the batsmen. He uttered a few words to Rahane, making him aware that the ball was coming sharply into him. As a result, the last two balls of that over went for a six and a four, respectively.
The six came off a cross-batted shot sailing over long-on. The boundary came off a head-high short- pitched delivery – in the form of a ramp shot over third man.
These two shots are a specimen of Rahane’s batting prowess against pace. He can play well – both off the back foot and the front foot. Not only does he have an awe-inspiring drive down the ground, he is equally up to the task when it comes to the cut and the pull shot
Realising the team’s weakness at number four, Kohli said at the pre-match press conference, “We have explored many options in the last few months. We don’t have too many series and too much time left before the World Cup, so we want to explore all the options before the World Cup.”
Kohli further added: “I had said earlier that Ajinkya Rahane would be looked at as a third opener but that situation can change because he has batted at No. 4 in a World Cup (in 2015) before. These conditions are such that you get to play fast bowling throughout the innings so he becomes a strong candidate for number four.”
The likes of Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, KL Rahul, and Yuvraj Singh have not been able to make the number spot their own. On the contrary, India’s Test vice-captain, Rahane, has struck four half centuries in his last five appearances at number four, with scores of 79, 50, 89, 87 and 45.
The 2019 World Cup is to be held in England. It is common knowledge that the ball wobbles around, under the cloudy conditions there. Matches are set to be held at venues like Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, which are known for their assistance to swing bowling.
It will not come as a surprise if the top order falls early in such challenging conditions. In such a situation, India will need the experience of somebody like Rahane to hold one end and let the youngsters play around him. His experience of playing in English conditions will also come in handy for the team.