Team India's No. 4 ICC World Cup 2023
All one can say is India must remember 2019 and ensure they don’t fall into the same trap again.

India struggled in the 2019 World Cup in England because they did not have their starting XI ready even heading into the mega event. There was experimentation till the very end, even in team selection for the tournament, as Vijay Shankar was preferred ahead of Ambati Rayudu by the then-selectors for his “3-D” skills. With all due respect to Shankar, it was probably one of the worst decisions taken by any selector from any country, particularly keeping a massive event like the World Cup in mind. 

India’s experimentation continued at the 2019 World Cup, particularly with the crucial No. 4 slot. KL Rahul batted at that position in India’s first match of the competition against South Africa. In the next game against Australia, Hardik Pandya came in at the slot. Shankar also got his chance to bat at No. 4 before he got “injured”, and in the loss against England, Rishabh Pant was sent into bat at two down. He batted at the same position in the semis as well. India did make it to the last four but were never settled because of their unsettled batting order.

Cut to 2023; history seems to be repeating itself. We are just months away from the latest edition of the ODI World Cup. Four years after the struggles at the 2019 World Cup, India still haven’t figured out who their No. 4 batter will be at the ICC event to be played at home. Shreyas Iyer seemed to have sealed that spot with some impressive performances, but his injury woes mean there is no guarantee of him featuring in the World Cup. Even if he is declared fit, concerns over him being rusty will remain. 

Why so much experimentation?

Although Team India is yet to finalize their batting unit for the 2023 World Cup, it was surprising to see the think tank experiment with the line-up in the first ODI against West Indies at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. What should have been an opportunity to give game time to players thus turned out to be an utter farce. 

There is no way that Ishan Kishan will open the batting for India in the 2023 World Cup with skipper Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill around. Even if one of the two is unavailable for the World Cup, the Men in Blue can go in with KL Rahul at the top of the order. And while Kishan did grab his opportunity and score a fifty, the big question is – what purpose did it serve in keeping the preparations for the 2023 World Cup in mind?

Another bizarre decision was to send Suryakumar Yadav into bat at No. 3 when it is very clear that he is auditioning for the No. 4 spot in case Shreyas is unavailable for the World Cup. Yes, he might not have had a chance to bat at No. 4 if Virat Kohli had come in one down because India was chasing a minuscule score. But India did not achieve much by sending SKY at No. 3 as another failure has only raised further question marks over his place in the team. Skipper Rohit’s decision to demote himself to No. 7 also reeked of a sense of overconfidence. India may have been having it easy against a weak West Indies side, but remember, Rohit had also been short of runs ahead of the Windies tour, so he, too, needs as much game time out in the middle with the willow as possible. 

How long will India stick with SKY? Why not Samson?

This is one of the biggest question marks in Indian cricket at present. Is Suryakumar the only alternative for Shreyas at No. 4 in ODIs? No, not. There is Sanju Samson as well. But, as has been happening so often, he has hardly any chances to prove his worth. Yes, Suryakumar has been brilliant in T20Is, but it is equally a fact he has been a miserable failure in the ODI format, where he has just not found his bearings. Only a handful of one-dayers are left before the World Cup, and India cannot assume that SKY will light up the big stage even though he hasn’t produced the numbers in the build-up to the event.

Let’s compare Suryakumar’s ODI stats with Samson’s. It is evident that while one has got an extended rope despite consistent failures, the other has been short of chances despite impacting limited opportunities. It is no rocket science to figure out who is who. Following the first one-dayer against West Indies, Suryakumar has now featured in 24 ODI matches in which he has scored only 452 runs at a poor average of 23.78, with only two half-centuries to show for his efforts. This is in stark contrast to his T20I numbers, a format in which he has smashed 1675 runs in 48 games at an excellent average of 46.52 and a stupendous strike rate of 175.76, with three hundreds and 13 fifties.

SKY’s recent ODI returns tell a story in itself. It has been 16 innings since he has scored a half-century in the format. On nine occasions, he has been dismissed in single-figure scores, including three consecutive golden ducks in the home series against Australia. His highest score during his period has been 34 not out, and he has crossed 30 in only one other innings. If we look at Samson’s numbers, he has played only 10 ODI innings since making his debut in Sri Lanka in July 2021. The Kerala keeper-batter scored 46 on debut and 54 in his third one-day innings. He also notched up scores of 86 not out and 30 not out in the series against South Africa at home last year. Even in his last one-day knock, he chipped in with 36. 

All one can say is India must remember 2019 and ensure they don’t fall into the same trap again. Period.