Can all-rounder Hardik Pandya be a No. 4 all around?

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Before the start of the ODI series against Sri Lanka last month, India chief selector MSK Prasad had designated KL Rahul to be India’s No. 4 batsman. A little over a month and nine ODIs later, India captain Virat Kohli has thrown in another name for that spot: Hardik Pandya.

From Rahul to Kedar Jadhav to Manish Pandey to Pandya, the Indian team management has tried to zero in on an ideal No. 4 batsman over the course of the last nine ODIs, five being against Sri Lanka that India won 5-0 and four against Australia in the ongoing series that the hosts lead 3-1.

While Rahul has since been shunted out of the playing XI, Pandey has failed to seize the opportunity at his preferred slot. And the beneficiary of the Karnataka duo’s uninspiring performances seems to be Pandya.

Chasing Australia’s 293/6, the all-rounder cracked a match-winning 78 in the third ODI in Indore after the fall of two wickets for 147. And though he did not take India over the line, he did enough to ensure the line was a forgone conclusion.

The situation was similar in the following ODI in Bengaluru, with India having to overhaul a slightly higher target of 335. Pandya came in at No. 4 again, and appeared well on course to do a heroic encore. But just as he was threatening to take the game away from the Aussies, leggie Adam Zampa got him holed out going for a biggie at 41.

And though Pandya could not win the game for India the second time around, Kohli thinks he has seen enough to make a prediction.

“The guy’s got a solid defence and a good technique. He is not just a slogger,” Kohli said on Thursday night after India’s 21-run loss in the fourth ODI in Bengaluru.

“If he gains more confidence and he understands how to take the game till the end and finish more often, he might be a regular at that (No. 4) spot,” he added.

The idea to promote Pandya up the batting order was that of head coach Ravi Shastri, as Kohli pointed out after the Indore ODI. The 23-year-old Baroda lad loves to take the attack to the spinners, and does so with an unmistakable audacity. With spinners having more say between overs 20-40 in the subcontinent, Pandya fits the No. 4 bill for the team management as of now.

“For now, the idea to promote him is to go after the spinner, push the spinner out of the attack and get their (Australian) quicks to come back into the game earlier,” Kohli said. “He has done that well, in the last game and in this game as well. It might be a regular option in the future, you never know.”

Pandya was first sent in at No. 4 in the second ODI against the West Indies in June this year, where he scored four. His second stint at that position came against Sri Lanka in the fourth ODI, where he walked back for 19.

In all the four innings that he has batted at No. 4, the one common factor has been a solid foundation: 221/2, 225/2, 147/2, 135/2.

It thus remains to be seen how Pandya deals with batting at that crucial position when he walks out at, say, 12/2. Or for that matter when India play overseas, where attacking spinners wouldn’t be as decisive as factor as in India.

What Pandya’s promotion would also mean is the likes of MS Dhoni, Pandey and Jadhav batting lower down the order, something the latter two do not enjoy and the former doesn’t deserve with his bundle of experience of anchoring an innings.

However, in Kohli’s brand new Team India, adapting is the new buzzword. And going by the captain’s words, Pandya at No. 4 could well be a consistent sight, at least in the subcontinent.

IRFAN LAUDS KOHLI FOR HAVING TRUST

Irfan Pathan has praised India captain Virat Kohli for backing Hardik Pandya’s all-round abilities. Pandya has raised expectations of ending India’s hunt for a quality all-rounder, just like his senior Baroda teammate Pathan did when he made his debut against Australia in December 2003. “It is great to see players being backed,” Pathan said. “For any player’s rise, not just Hardik’s, the backing of captain plays a huge role. Kedar (Jadhav), for example, was doing fantastically well in domestic cricket for so many years but he got the backing only under Virat,” said Pathan, who last played for India in 2012. “Virat is backing all the youngsters, not only one or two. If you have the backing of captain and team management, the player will perform eventually.”



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