Opinion Piece

The Number 4 Batsman Dilemma for India Cricket

India has not found a consistent and dependable number four batter in ODIs. Lack of form and injuries have made the matter worse for India.

Dillip Mohanty
Dillip Mohanty

Last Updated: 2023-09-01

No clear ODI number 4

"Look, number four has been an issue for us for a long time. After Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), nobody has come and settled themselves in. But, for a long period of time, Shreyas (Iyer) has actually batted at number four and he has done well — his numbers are really good." This was India captain Rohit Sharma’s comment on the much-debated topic of India’s quandary over who should bat at number four in the ODIs. This is an issue that has plagued India’s ODI cricket since 2011.

In the last 10 years, no player playing for India has scored more than 1000 runs in ODI batting at number four. Since the 2019 World Cup, India has tried 11 players in 53 innings at number for spots the second most after West Indies (12). In a World Cup year, the topic gathers pace given that Shreyas Iyer who almost cemented his place at number four is coming back from an injury. He has not played any form of competitive cricket since March 2023. The options are limited. The team management will have their task cut out to find the best candidate for the coveted batting position if Iyer does not come good in the upcoming matches.

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Why is batting position #4 important?

Historically, the players who have batted and excelled at number four are limited over stalwarts like Viv Richards, Javed Miandad, Martin Crowe, Aravinda de Silva, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Clark, Yuvraj Singh, Mahela Jayawardene etc. They have the distinction of taking their teams to the finals of World Cups. Javed Miandad scored 437 runs in 9 innings at an average of 62.42 in the 1992 World Cup that Pakistan won. He was the second-highest run-scorer of the tournament. Yuvaraj Singh was the player of the tournament of the 2011 World Cup that India won. Yuvraj scored 362 runs in 8 innings at an average of 88.25 and he was the anchor of the Indian cricket team.

In the 1996 World Cup semi-final match between India and Sri Lanka at Kolkata, Sri Lanka lost both their openers in quick succession. Sri Lanka was 2 wickets down for 1 run in the first over. Then arrived Aravinda de Silva at number four who launched a determined counter-attack against the Indian bowlers. Aravinda scored a blistering 66 in 47 balls with 14 boundaries. His innings demoralised the Indian bowlers who had got an early inroad to the famed Sri Lanka batting order. Sri Lanka set a target of 252 and India were on the mat struggling at 120 for 8 when some section of the crowd got violent. The match referee stopped the play and the game was awarded to Sri Lanka by default. The heartbreaking scenes of India getting eliminated from the 1996 World Cup are still fresh in the Indian fan’s memory after 27 years. Aravinda de Silva was declared player of the match. Such is the game-changing impact of number four batters.

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Look, number four has been an issue for us for a long time

Rohit Sharma

Number four is an important batting position in ODI cricket. The batter plays a bridge between the top and lower order. They are the anchor of the innings. The primary challenge to find a suitable player for the number four spot is the need for adaptability. The player needs to change his game style according to the match situation. The batter should be someone who is adept in rotating strikes, building partnerships and accelerating when needed. Apart from versatile skill and batsmanship, the batter should be someone who can soak in the pressure from different match situations.

India's number 4 selection fiasco

After Yuvraj Sing’s 2011 World Cup heroics in which he was adjudged the player of the series, India has not got a steady number four batter. Before the 2019 World Cup, Ambati Rayudu was a strong contender for the number four spot. Captain Virat Kohli had deposed faith in him and backed him for the spot. Rayudu averaged 41.66 while batting at number 4.

Just before the tournament, the selection panel thought otherwise. Newcomer Vijay Shankar - a three-dimensional player - according to the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad got a nod ahead of Rayudu. Vijay Shankar before his first World Cup match had played 9 ODIs and never batted at number four. He participated in just three games in the 2019 World Cup before getting injured and ruling himself out of the tournament. The pre-tournament selection fiasco, the sarcastic reaction from Rayudu and his haste retirement announcement and India’s subsequent elimination from the World Cup from the semi-final kept the number four debate alive till Shreyas Iyer started occupying the spot.

The best candidate for India's number 4 position

The quest to find a consistent performer at the number four spot has been ongoing for quite some time. However, no one has cemented the place due to lack of form, consistency or injury concerns. This has led to many uneasy questions regarding India’s middle-order strengths. Since the 2019 World Cup, India has tried 11 players at the number 4 position and only Shreyas Iyer has scored more than 500 runs. Though Iyer made his ODI debut in 2017, he became a regular in 2022.

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Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant injury

Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant played the bulk of the matches and performed well at the number four position. Unfortunately, Rishabh Pant met with an accident that made him unavailable for any form of cricket for a considerable period of time. He is not available for the World Cup. Shreyas Iyer has had a decent run. He has averaged 47.4 in 20 innings batting at number four. But he still needs more exposure at the international level. Shreyas Iyer also suffered from a shoulder injury and he is coming back to the team in a gap of five months.

Shreyas Iyer

In one-day International

3RD POSITION953459.3395.52
4TH POSITION2080547.3594.37
5TH POSITION929232.44105.03
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India’s option for the number four spot is pretty limited to Shreyas Iyer for the upcoming Asia Cup and the World Cup. Others like Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, who have been given limited opportunities have not performed well. Iyer has performed consistently in this position among all other positions he has batted in.

In a media interaction, former India captain Sourav Ganguly said "Number four is just a number. I really don't think that anybody is born as an opener or number three or number four. I had started in the middle order in one-day cricket and was asked to open when Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin also started at number six; when he opened, he became a world-class player. So anybody can play at number four.”

Finally, the number four debate surrounding India’s ODI cricket is not because of a lack of quality players. But, a lack of dependable and consistent batsmen performing there. Iyer is the best option now. His form will decide whether we see any more changes in the batting order.

Dillip Mohanty
Dillip MohantySports Editor

Dillip has over two decades of experience in creating sports content. As the Sports Editor of SportsBoom, Dillip brings in a wealth of experience and expertise to the role. Dillip has worked with leading sports broadcasters and sports web content portals in Asia. He is an adept storyteller and has a special liking for data stories. He has a keen interest in data analysis and uncovering insights from large datasets. He loves to tell the story with rich and compelling data visualisation.