KL for Shikhar Dhawan; ____ for Rahul

Sriram Veera
India coach Ravi Shastri with captain Virat Kohli at a training session ahead of their World Cup encounter against New Zealand at Trent Bridge on Wednesday. (AP)

KL Rahul at No.4 had looked too good a tenant, settling in without fuss, subletting it to Hardik Pandya and even making dashing three-ball cameos when pushed down the order. With his performance, he had mocked all the sweat, fret, and ether-mumblings on social media. It almost felt a bit of anti-climax.

However, with Rahul about to take the injured opener Shikhar Dhawan s slot at the top, the No.4 question is staring at Indian cricket again. Will it be Ambati Rayudu s 3-D glass provider Vijay Shankar? Or would they turn to Dinesh Kartik or Kedar Jadav? But one gets the sense that it might be either MS Dhoni or Pandya, depending on how well the top three do their jobs and the match situation.

READ | Kohli s boys aim for third victory as weather pose challenge for India

In the end, No. 4 could be the greatest trick India has pulled off this tournament. The lack of a specialist at the spot gives Dhoni the luxury of time in the middle, allowing him to manoeuvre the middle overs, something he likes doing. Not long ago, Rohit Sharma had spoken about Dhoni being his ideal No.4. The only thing going against it, ironically, is Dhoni s IPL form. He biffed the bowlers, enough to perhaps make the team-management think that he could still be the big-hitting finisher and can be sent later. It s still worth, though, trying him at No.4 for a game to see how he goes. By the look of things, India might well use him at No,4 occasionally, depending on match situation and that perhaps isn t a bad way to go about it.

While Dhawan s absence might not be as big a disaster as feared, it can throw up a few interesting side-effects on the line-up. Not just the pressure on the top 3 to score consistently but also perhaps on the way they bat. Until they find some confidence in the middle order, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma might not attempt to break free in the middle overs.

Explained

A washout will harm India more than Kiwis

after three washouts at the ongoing World Cup, weather will once again take much of the attention when India play New Zealand at Trent Bridge on Thursday. According to BBC s weather channel, on Thursday, there s a high chance of precipitation in Nottingham throughout the day. Another washout, therefore, can t be ruled out. Such an eventuality will harm India more than New Zealand, as the Blackcaps are top of the leaderboard with three wins. Another point tomorrow that too over a team in ominous form would leave them needing just two more wins from the last five matches to advance. However, for India, who have played and won two games, will it be a point gained or a point lost? India have defeated New Zealand in six out of their last eight ODIs, but they did fold against Kane Williamson s team in the warm-up just before the tournament. New Zealand s pace attack carries plenty of threat, especially in overcast conditions. The Men-in-Blue wouldn t be kicking themselves if they are to split points.

Pandya took off that pressure from Kohli in the last game against Australia, allowing him to bat on with a steady and consistent tempo. He didn t have to shift gears at all. Kohli did admit later that there was temptation to go for it, try to accelerate, but he resisted the urge after watching Pandya go. Also, when Pandya suggested that he likes batting with Kohli holding one end up. It allowed Pandya to do his thing. But the last game was almost the ideal game for India the wickets didn t fall, Pandya soared, and Dhoni flexed his muscles and Kohli could do his thing.

Rohit Sharma will open the Indian batting with KL Rahul.

Interesting side-effects

India will have to choose their No 4 wisely to ensure that the one of the top three who is the set batsman by then, doesn t feel inhibited and forced to slow down. The other extreme too isn t ideal where they are forced to accelerate when they don t yet want to. Considering all this, it won t be a surprise if India go with either established players already in the team at No.4 instead of trying out Vijay Shankar there.

But all this hand-wringing is unnecessary when you speak to non-India fans. There is such an overwhelming feeling in England, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fans sprinkled across this country that India are so dominant they say they laugh at the Indian fans and media s obsession with No. 4. In some ways, even more than the parochial Indian fans, there is more respect and admiration in the others.

A washed-out game against New Zealand though won t help India. Not because of the points accrued, but they would prefer the match practice to fine-tune their new batting order. It allows them to see what Dhoni does at No. 4 if India lose a couple of wickets for not too many and need consolidation. 100/2, say, when batting first. Would he, as some fear, bat too slow at the start? There is not much empirical evidence of it, yet, as he hasn t batted at No 4 in the recent times and it s better to find out now, at this stage in the tournament, than later.

The Virat Kohli-led Indian unit is all set for their next challenge against New Zealand in Nottingham on Thursday. (AP Photo)

The Indian players couldn t hold a proper net session at Nottingham, a day ahead of the game. It drizzled, not too heavy but enough to make them discard any attempt at bowling. The batsmen faced knockdowns, with the net bowlers standing and throwing the ball them. The weather remains a threat on match day. New Zealand have a pretty good bowling attack with the left-handed Trent Boult as its leader and Ferguson who can crank up the pace. And in Mitchell Santner they have a pretty decent left-arm spinner who can peg away steadily. India will be New Zealand s first big test in the tournament. They did have a few tight moments against Bangladesh but Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, their main batsmen, have helped them get three straight wins. They would fight hard but India should win this.