In India's comfortable win over West Indies in the second ODI at Port of Spain, the biggest positive for the team was Shreyas Iyer’s fluent innings of 71 which came off 68 balls with 5 fours and one six.
Iyer has been unlucky to not get a continuous run since his ODI debut in December 2017. He scored 9, 88 and 65 in his first series against Sri Lanka; in his very second match, Iyer was involved in a double century partnership with Rohit Sharma.
But after that success in his debut series, he didn't get as many chances as one would have expected him to get.
The last time Iyer batted in an ODI was way back in February 2018 when he scored 30 off 37 balls against South Africa. But he was dropped thereafter and was never tried again even when the selectors were scratching their heads for the elusive No. 4 batsman for the World Cup.
Undaunted by the indifference of the selectors, he continued to score heavily in domestic cricket. But for a successful IPL last year, Iyer would have been conveniently forgotten like so many other talented cricketers before him.
Iyer's performances as a batsman and as a leader for Delhi Capitals in IPL 2019 earned him a place in the India A squad. He scored two half-centuries during the team's recent tour of the Caribbean.
That India A tour kept him in the right frame of mind to perform well in the senior team. When given an opportunity in the second ODI against the West Indies, Iyer showed his class with a top-notch innings.
That brings us to the possible gains in pushing Iyer to the No. 4 position in the batting order and in holding back Rishabh Pant to the No. 5 position. The interchanging of positions in the batting order is particularly useful as one acts as a solution to the other problem.
There are several reasons that justify this swap.
Specialist batsman for a specialist batting position
The No. 4 position in the batting order is a specialist position which should be manned by a specialist batsman. The No. 4 batsman is the connecting loop between the top order and the middle-order. A proper batsman like Iyer at No. 4 would be able to weather the storm in case of an early loss of wickets.
On the other hand, Pant at No. 4 might be a walking wicket when the bowlers are in full flow and in the mood to run through the opposition batting line-up.
Rotation of strike and taking on the spinners in the middle overs
In his innings of 71 against the West Indies, Iyer never got bogged down as he kept rotating the strike with singles.
In the early part of the Indian innings, the fans witnessed the frustrating dismissal of Rohit due to lack of strike and strike rotation. But Iyer ensured that his in-form captain got enough of the strike to go with the flow of the game and make a huge impact on the innings.
All along, Iyer himself was busy at the crease. He score his first 25 runs off 23 balls and his next 25 runs off 26 balls.
Compared to Iyer, Pant nonchalantly swatted away the third ball he faced to the mid-wicket fence and reached 14 off 14 balls. But thereafter, he slowed down and played out a maiden to Roston Chase.
When he was finally dismissed for 20 off 35 balls, he had consumed 23 dot balls.
It was the arrival of Iyer to the wicket that ensured quick singles and rotation of strike for the first time in the Indian innings.
In the World Cup semi-final both Pant and Hardik Pandya allowed Mitchell Santner to bowl dot ball after dot ball, which led the required run rate to sky-rocket and finally led to their dismissals. Even in the second ODI against West Indies, Pant struggled against part-time off-spinner Roston Chase.
A No. 4 batsman should be adept at scoring fluently against both fast bowling and spin bowling. In that respect, Iyer seems to be a better option than Pant.
Iyer better equipped to play the long innings
Compared to a T20 match, there are quite a lot of overs to bat through in a 50-over match. An ODI match tests the skill, technique and patience of a batsman. With a maximum of 10 overs at the disposal of each bowler, they keep coming at the batsmen in tandem.
In such a scenario, it is always the better equipped specialist batsman like Iyer who is backed to play the long innings and press home the advantage. As a specialist batsman, Iyer should be given the opportunity to play more overs.
The arduous task of keeping wickets and batting in the top order
Gifted players like Kumar Sangakkara and Adam Gilchrist proved in the past that they could keep wickets and score runs as well at the top. But for a less talented or inexperienced cricketer, it would be hard to do justice to both the aspects of the game.
If India happens to bat second, Pant would struggle to forge a long innings at No. 4 after keeping wickets for 50 overs. Fatigue would take over and force an error in front of the wicket.
To understand the enormity of the task, apart from MS Dhoni none of the other Indian specialist wicket-keepers have crossed 1500 runs in ODIs. To further emphasize the point, out of his 297 ODI innings, only on 48 occasions has Dhoni batted at No. 4 or above in the batting order.
Hence, Pant would be better off batting down the order in a 50-over ODI match.
Pant a better finisher than Iyer at No. 5
With his range of strokes and dare-devil approach, Pant could be a better finisher at No. 5 or 6 than Iyer. Pant is a more effective batsman when the target is in sight, and he is very capable of producing quick cameos at end of the innings.
His big-hitting abilities are wasted at No. 4, where he has to play according to the situation.
A left-hander like Pant at the death could be an added advantage as bowlers tend to lose their angle in such a situation. Along with Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, Pant could form a formidable line-up of finishers.
But for that to happen, a batsman like Iyer should bat at No. 4. He can consolidate the innings by keeping wickets intact and thereby creating an opportunity for the finishers to go for the kill.
To sum up, it would be in the long-term interest of the Indian team if Iyer is asked to bat at No. 4 and Pant at No. 5. That would be in the mutual interest of both the players as well.