Ambati Rayudu has finally resolved one of Team India’s biggest worries in limited-overs cricket in recent times, albeit temporarily. He has made the No 4 spot his own in ODIs for the time being.
He cracked an 81-ball 100 in the fourth ODI at Mumbai against West Indies on Monday to help India to a match-winning total of 377/5. But what adds more meaning to his contribution is the batting position he batted in the fourth ODI. He was given the No 4 spot ahead of KL Rahul, Manish Pandey in the ODI series and the CSK batsman played with responsibility, claiming the position his own for some time, and maybe till the 2019 World Cup.
India’s desperation for a reliable No 4
India were desperate to find a stable No 4 who can anchor the innings with responsibility for the past couple of seasons. They tried many players in KL Rahul, MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, and even Hardik Pandya but none delivered the goods consistently. And hence, India had a vulnerable middle-order after the top 3, especially when Dhoni has passed his prime and no more can take charge of innings as he used to do in his best days.
Ambati Rayudu’s ton a sigh of relief
The magnitude of India’s No 4 woes can be gauged with this piece of information that Rayudu is the first player since January 2017 to post a ton for India outside of top 3. An inconsistent No 4 and the middle-order has made India suffer whenever the top 3 comprising Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have failed in unison.
The 2017 Champions Trophy final which India lost to Pakistan after the cheap dismissals of top 3 highlighted India’s middle-order woes. And the search for a reliable No 4 was on since then.
Rayudu saves career thanks to IPL 2018
And all thanks to IPL 2018 where Rayudu opened the batting for CSK saw him back into national reckoning. He missed the limited-overs series in England due to fitness issues, but he is back with a bang first in the Asia Cup and then the ongoing limited-overs series against Windies.
But can Rayudu live up to the high demands of a No 4 batsman for India in limited-overs cricket?
Unlike the opening slots where you have the liberty to take your time to settle down before launching into the attack, the No 4 slot is extremely challenging and demands experience and varied skills.
Job description of No 4
First, if the top-order fails, the No 4 batsman needs to revive and anchor the innings to a position of strength. He has to absorb all the pressure and bat with the lower-order to take the team across the finish line. Or, if the top-order gives a great start, he needs to build on the momentum and bat the opponent out of the match.
Hence, it is an extremely challenging job. Rayudu cleared the first test as he combined with Rohit in the fourth ODI to help India to a match-winning total.
Rayudu’s real test
His real test will come when India’s top 3 will fail without much contribution and Rayudu will have to play a match-winning knock to bail the team out. Can he do the job?
Rayudu has done it for Mumbai Indians for few seasons and most recently, he did it for CSK in IPL 2018 when he was asked to bat lower down the order by skipper Dhoni after opening the games for few matches.
However, it’s still early days for Rayudu as there have been many contenders for the role, but no serious holders of the spot.
Rayudu knows only consistency and match-winning knocks can help him retain his spot and earn the ticket to World Cup 2019. But at the moment, he has silenced the critics and given some respite to Team India.