Vijay Shankar nudges ahead in middle-order race

1:24 PM ET
  • Deivarayan Muthu

Since the Champions Trophy in June 2017, India have tried out 11 players at No. 4, but none have staked claim to that spot, or so it appears, with India having completed their complement of matches leading up to the World Cup.

The situation so dire that Virat Kohli briefly returned to No. 4 in Mohali, but didn’t get going. Picked ahead of Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant had an opportunity to leave his imprint in the series decider in New Delhi, but failed.

It may appear that Kedar Jadhav is a certainty, along with MS Dhoni and Kohli. This leaves Ambati Rayudu, dropped after three poor outings, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, Pant and Karthik scrambling for middle order berths. ESPNcricinfo examines how they all fared in the run-up to England 2019:

Ambati Rayudu

Kohli has often stated Rayudu has the game to bat at No. 4, but a key ingredient seems to have gone missing suddenly: strike rotation. In the first three ODIs, he labored to 13, 18 and 2. He ate up 40 dots out of 59 deliveries faced and was subsequently left out.

The competition is so stifling that he may yet find himself in a spot despite being the top scorer in New Zealand in January. He managed 190 runs in five innings, including a match-winning 90 on a Wellington track that aided pacers, after the top order floundered.

Vijay Shankar

He played each of the five matches, caught the eye with his strike-rotation, lofted hits, sparkling cameos, rocket throws from the deep and the ability to save runs on the field. With the bat, he isn’t quite the power hitter, but has shown how he can use the touch game to great effect. That he can bowl a few overs and sometimes win games – like he did in Nagpur – may give him the edge.

His 46 off 41 balls on a fairly two-paced Nagpur deck stood out. He unfurled a variety of shots – none more delightful than the pair of straight-bat punches over midwicket off Marcus Stoinis.

According to Cricviz, Vijay played a mere 4.1% false shots in that innings, and the last time an Indian who wasn’t Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan or Kohli scored as many runs with that much control was Hardik Pandya in the Champions Trophy final.

In the series decider, he had an opportunity to put little doubts to rest, but failed after miscuing a pull to long-on. This after he’d just hit a delightful six onto the sight screen off Adam Zampa. Overall, he is quite a package nonetheless.

Rishabh Pant

When Pant smokes massive sixes, he makes a mockery of the stable base that coaches are fond of. He provided glimpses of those during his 24-ball 36 in Mohali, but his wicketkeeping came under sharp scrutiny. He missed two stumpings, and the recipient of one of them – Ashton Turner – not only won Australia the game but also gave Justin Langer and co a few selection headaches.

Pant fared much better behind the stumps in the series decider in front of his home crowd, but couldn’t click with the bat again, after being snuffed out by Nathan Lyon’s dip and turn. His returns: 52 runs in two innings. However, the Indian team management rates him highly and he was recently rewarded with a Category A central contract – the second-most lucrative retainer.

Is that alone a sign that he’s still in their plans? What of Dinesh Karthik and his finishing abilities?Kohli insists that IPL will not impact World Cup selection, but given Pant hasn’t got enough game-time in this series, will the toss-up continue in the IPL too?

KL Rahul

He lit up the T20Is with knocks of 50 and 47, but had one innings to prove himself in the ODIs. That innings came at No. 4, a position he wasn’t auditioning for. It also came on the back of a mammoth 193-run opening stand that left him fewer overs to negotiate. Rahul likes the new ball ball coming onto the bat and isn’t as fluent against the old one, at least initially. He could well be India’s back-up opener in the World Cup, but there are still question marks over how he can fit into the middle order.

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