Eleven. That’s the number of players in a cricket team, but that’s also the number of players India has tried in that number 4 slot since the 2015 World Cup. India has tried an entire team for that number 4 spot.
The number 4 spot is crucial in modern ODI cricket, for it needs a batsman who can come in and continue the good work of the top 3 batsmen or build an innings if the team is in trouble. But is it necessary for that number 4 spot to be fixed for one batsman? Should India be looking for just one batsman to take on that mantle of the number 4 spot? Or could there be another way to look at this conundrum?
The Indian Top 3 scores runs, lots of runs. They have scored 58.8% of the runs the Indian team has scored since the 2015 World Cup, which is the highest among test playing nations (excluding Zimbabwe). The Indian top 3 also faces most of the bowling as well, facing close to 60% of the overs, or almost 30 overs of an ODI innings. With a top 3 that good, India’s batting order past that spot should be fluid.
The batting order from number 4 onward should depend on the situation the team is in at the point of the innings. If India needs to further its advantage in the game then they should send in a quick scorer. If they need to consolidate a collapse and set up a base then they should send in someone who can rotate the strike. The batting order then becomes dependent on how the game is going and not on a pre planned method.
Percentage Runs Scored (1-3) & Global Average (since 2015)
A batting order is a set plan which teams have when they bat. Usually it remains the same for a series of games and very rarely does it change. When it does, it’s due to how teams want to approach the remaining overs. Sides should look to have a flexible batting order, more so now when data analysis plays a major role in the cricket being played around the world.
Take the example of the recent ODI India played against Australia at Indore. Hardik Pandya walked in to bat at number 4 in that match when India needed 147 runs in 159 balls. His innings can be divided in two halves, the first half (31 runs in 35 balls) where Pandya took his time and assesses the situation but kept scoring at a healthy rate and the second half (47 runs in 37 balls) where it became time to make that start count.
“We want 11 guys who can bat at any stage and bowl and chip in with overs at any stage, We want to remain unpredictable. We don’t want a set pattern in any department.” said Virat Kohli after India’s tour to Sri Lanka. Hardik Pandya’s promotion to the number 4 spot is part of Kohli’s plan to remain unpredictable. By allowing for sudden changes in the batting order, India add a layer of unpredictability to a side which is well oiled machine and this furthers India’s advantage in the format.
“We want 11 guys who can bat at any stage and bowl and chip in with overs at any stage, We want to remain unpredictable.”- Kohli
The situation was tense was when Hardik Pandya walked out to bat in that match, but his ability to score quickly meant that the chase never felt out of hand.
There are many benefits of changing your batting order at the drop of hat. For example, you always keep the opposition guessing, as they have no set plan to play against. The opposition will have to change their plans and that’s not always easy to do.
Another benefit could be forcing the issue. Conventionally, changes in batting orders have come late in the innings, and telegraphs the team’s intent to the opponents. But India could conceivably use the number 4 spot to start their death overs earlier than normal. Given how most of India’s batting has grown up playing the IPL and can change gears at will, there is no reason why India should not be more fluid with the batting order after the top 3.
One of the best examples of this has come, ironically, against India in the recent Champions Trophy final. Mohammad Hafeez came out to bat for Pakistan at 5 in that match. Since the 2015 World Cup Pakistan have used 7 batsmen at the number 5 spot, and this was the first time Hafeez was batting at this position since the World Cup. Coming in at the end of the innings while Pakistan were already on a rampage, that change in position and approach put India further on the back foot as Hafeez went on to score runs rapidly. An even more famous example would be of MS Dhoni’s iconic innings in the 2011 World Cup final, coming in ahead of the red-hot Yuvraj Singh and taking India to the win. It is time now for such proactive batting order changes to start becoming the new norm.