India’s worst fears came true when experienced opener Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out of the ongoing ICC World Cup due to the injury he sustained in the game against Australia. Rishabh Pant will be his replacement.
While India has KL Rahul to step into the opening slot – and he did that very well against Pakistan – the absence of Dhawan also changes the stakes for the No 4 slot.
With the experienced left-hander in the line-up, India could afford to some risks with the No 4 batting position, knowing that the top three were ready to step up whenever the side needed them to. But with him missing – do India now need a dasher [Rishabh Pant], an experienced hand [Dinesh Karthik] or a 3D amalgamation of them both [Vijay Shankar]?
Given the way Kohli has operated over the past few years, he is likely to adopt a ‘horses for courses’ policy. But the presence of a regular No 4 can make a huge difference especially when the batting side loses a couple of early wickets or as Eoin Morgan showed against Afghanistan, it can also allow the team to team to kick into higher even before the big-hitters come out to bat.
And in that sense, KL Rahul was the perfect fit. He can handle the new ball and he can hit a long ball. Are his replacements at No 4 going to be just as good?
Pant is the crowd favourite. The player most people wanted in the squad if not the playing XI for his sheer match-winning prowess. On his day, he’ll change the match in the twinkle of an eye. As clear as his talent is to everyone who watches cricket, his failings are just as obvious. For the moment, it comes down to his shot selection. The term ‘rush of blood’ comes to mind but he has shown signs of better control. With more experience, he should get better but can he be trusted to do the right thing in a pressure situation? If he can, in Hardik Pandya and Pant... India will have two batsmen that every side in the world will fear. Still, he has not played any competitive cricket since the end of the IPL and he will come in cold.
Will India risk it? Will Kohli risk it? If coach Ravi Shastri wants someone to ‘smash ‘em’, there is no better player in India.
The experienced hand
Karthik got the nod over Pant for his ability to finish matches under pressure. A higher standard of wicket-keeping also helped his case and that should still hold true. He can’t smash it like Pant but his experience should allow him to adapt better to tough situations. Still, that is all theoretical. Karthik wasn’t great in the IPL and played some pretty odd knocks in the middle. Frankly put, it was a far cry from the player who got the selectors interested in the first place.
He has toured England enough, should understand conditions better, should be better acclimatised and may even be technically better equipped to handle the moving ball if and when that does happen. While Pant can finish things in a flurry, Karthik can do it with a calm confidence that is sometimes the need of the hour.
The 3D star
India’s original pick for No 4 was Vijay Shankar. His presence lends great balance to the team. He can bowl a few overs too – and that proved to be crucial against Pakistan when Bhuvneshwar Kumar got injured. The selectors rate his batting highly enough but the team management doesn’t quite share the same sentiment.
But by picking him ahead of Karthik to play against Pakistan, the team might have shown its card already. The tough part of India’s early schedule is done. Of the remaining matches, England should prove to be a tough one but the others should be easier to deal with. In that scenario, does it make sense to continue playing Shankar in the No 4 slot and not get swayed by the presence of Pant?
Shankar hasn’t done much wrong and with the Indian team choosing to be flexible, he might fit the bill better than the other two. The options he provides might just be the clincher for now.