India’s selection committee chairman MSK Prasad addressed one of the most anticipated press conferences in the recent history of Indian cricket. The dust around India’s World Cup 2019 has settled and as Prasad insisted, the roadmap for the future has become the new buzz phrase.
MS Dhoni, Prasad confirmed, has made himself unavailable for the upcoming limited-overs series in the West Indies. Dinesh Karthik who was part of the World Cup squad as reserve wicketkeeper-batsman has been dropped.
All eyes are now on how India are going to address the middle-order issues that dominated the narrative during their World Cup 2019 campaign that ended in the semi-final.
Who will be India’s new No. 4 batsman? The uncertainty over the No.4 spot in the ODI squad did create a lot of confusion in the lead up to the World Cup. More than 10 players were tried at the crucial spot in the middle order since the 2015 World Cup but India struggled to fix a player at the World Cup.
Ambati Rayudu, who was looked at as a viable option, retired during the World Cup after being ignored for the squad. All-rounder Vijay Shankar, who made his ODI debut in 2019, was earmarked for the role at the World Cup but KL Rahul started at the coveted spot. After Rahul moved to open the batting, wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant was handed the responsibility to bat at No.4.
None of the moves worked.
Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer: Overlooked in the past, now called up to solve middle-order woes
However, with India looking ahead, there is a good opportunity to solve the middle-order puzzle that has haunted Virat Kohli’s men in the past.
A glimpse at India’s ODI squad for their tour to the West Indies, starting August 3, will give a hint on what the selectors and the team management are thinking.
Two names — Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer — who have been overlooked in the past are now being looked at as options to solve the middle-order conundrum.
Both Manish and Shreyas have been part of India’s ODI squads in the past. Manish made his ODI debut as early as 2015 and has played 23 ODIs and Shreyas broke into the senior national team in 2017 and has played 6 ODIs.
Manish Pandey stole the limelight when he hit a hundred on his maiden tour of Australia in 2016. The Karnataka batsman, is no doubt, among the most talented players in the circuit but consistency has been an issue for him.
Pandey averages 36.66 in ODIs and a longer run will certainly give him the space to work on his shortcomings. The India batsman has been in good touch in the ongoing India A tour of West Indies, scoring 155 runs in 4 unofficial ODIs. Pandey hit a match-winning hundred in Antigua as recently as July 16.
Pandey’s Indian Premier League (IPL) 2019 numbers should have also played a part in his selection for the West Indies tour. He had hit 344 runs at an impressive strike rate of 130.79 and finished as only the third highest run-scorer for Sunrisers Hyderabad behind David Warner and Jonny Bairstow.
Iyer’s wait pays off, can he seal a spot now?
On the other hand, Shreyas Iyer has got very little opportunities at the senior level — 6 ODIs since his debut that came 3 years ago. At point in time, Iyer even made a public statement that he has stopped thinking about selection and just wants to enjoy the game.
It seems he did that and now he has an opportunity to not just help himself but also the team. The Mumbai batsman has amassed truckloads of runs in the domestic circuit and has been knocking at the selectors door for quite sometime now.
Iyer’s approach to IPL 2019 was refreshing. As the skipper of Delhi Capitals, he led the team from the front, scoring 463 runs in 16 matches.
Manish Pandey can also be used as a floater if Iyer takes the No. 4 spot to start the series in the West Indies. Pandey’s numbers at No. 6 are impressive as he has scored 137 runs at an average of 45.66 at the spot in ODIs for India. Pandey’s ability will become crucial, especially when Kedar Jadhav isn’t looking at his best. When Hardik Pandya, who has been rested, comes back into the scheme of things, Pandey can still find a place in the side, provided he performs and makes himself inevitable.
Both Iyer and Pandey are busy players as the two young batsmen have the proven ability of keeping the scoreboard moving even under pressure situations.
All eyes will be on the team management as it will be interesting to see how they use the duo in the ODIs against the West Indies.
Rishabh Pant, who batted at No. 4 in the World Cup, might move down a spot in the absence of MS Dhoni.
On the other hand, KL Rahul, who started out at No. 4 seems to be more comfortable at the opener’s spot. However, the Karnataka star might have to give up a spot in the playing XI, considering Shikhar Dhawan is fit again and has been included in the limited-overs squads.
What about Shubman Gill then? The 19-year-old batsman has been opening the batting for India A in the West Indies and has scored 2 fifties in 4 outings. While he looks at ease at the opener’s spot, Gill has shown the potential to succeed at whatever position he is asked to bat at.
India will be well served if the musical chair for the middle-order roles stop. The likes of Iyer and Pandey would love a longer rope that wasn’t given to them in the past.