This article originally appeared in The Field’s newsletter, Game Points, on August 2, 2023. Sign up here to get the newsletter directly delivered to your inbox every week.

It has been four years since the last Cricket World Cup cycle, but a familiar problem still plagues the Indian team.

In October 2018, seven months before the 2019 ICC Men’s ODI World Cup, the then India captain Virat Kohli claimed that in Ambati Rayudu, India had found their batter at the number four position.

“We believe he is the right person to capitalise on that spot,” Kohli had said. “I think the batting order is sorted.”

By April 2019, Rayudu was dropped from the World Cup squad in favour of all-rounder Vijay Shankar who was deemed to be a “three-dimensional ” player.

Rayudu’s omission was strange. He had played more matches at number four than any other batter leading up to the World Cup. Curiously, Shankar played only three matches at the World Cup – batting at number four just twice – before being ruled-out of the tournament due to injury.

Now, in 2023, India go into another World Cup, this time as hosts, without a set number four or number five batter in the order.

The number four batter is the bridge between the top and middle orders. Batters in this position are the ones a team can trust to steady an innings or accelerate the scoring if and when required – hence its significance.

What has hurt India most are the injuries to Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant. In Iyer, India seemed to have found their number four batter with the Mumbai-born player scoring 805 runs in 20 innings at an average of 47.35 in the current World Cup cycle. However, he aggravated a back injury during the Border-Gavaskar Test series and underwent surgery which ruled him out of IPL 2023 and the World Test Championship Final.

Similarly, Rahul made the number five position his own, scoring 735 runs at an average of 56.53. However, he was ruled out of action midway through the Indian Premier League with a thigh injury and missed out on international cricket as well.

Additionally, Pant’s long-term absence following his car crash has also made matters worse for current captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid. His white-ball career is not as glistening as his Test career but he scored 492 runs including a 125* in 16 matches batting at number four and 310 runs in seven matches batting at number five.

Currently, both Iyer and Rahul are fighting to get fit in time for the World Cup which is scheduled to start on October 5 in India.

In their place, India have tried out a number of batters at number four and five with little success. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav have played the most matches in those positions but neither has been able to justify their position in the line-up.

Kishan and Yadav have played at number four in six matches, each scoring 106 and 30 runs respectively. Yadav has also played at number five in 11 innings, scoring 320 runs at an average of 35.55.

Even if Iyer and Rahul return to full-fitness for the World Cup, they will be short of match practice. After their ongoing tour of the West Indies, India will play eight ODI matches (nine if they reach the Asia Cup Final). But will they have enough time to find answers to their middle order conundrum?

The question continues.