India have tried many newbies at the position over the past four years, but none has been able to seal the spot yet.
India's biggest conundrum in ODI cricket for the past four years is the number four position, which has been a merry-go-round. From MS Dhoni to Yuvraj Singh to Rishabh Pant, India have tried 13 players at the position since the end of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. But none has been able to seal the spot in this time period.
With the World Cup just over, there's more room for experimentation now and India might do well to move Virat Kohli down to number four. The skipper has actually played in that position in the early stages of his career before moving up a rank.
Kohli has played 38 ODIs in this position and averages a whopping 56.48 with seven hundreds to his name. In contrast, at number three, he has 34 hundreds. By moving down the order, Kohli might have to sacrifice a few hundreds that he is scoring now in pointless bilaterals, but he could well solve the bigger issue - the number four position that has been a casualty for a while.
It is surprising that this hasn't been tried too many times despite Ravi Shastri suggesting India are open to the move a few months back. "The good thing about this Indian top-three is we can separate them if conditions and situations demand. Someone like Virat Kohli can go to number four, and we can put a good number three to bring more balance to the batting line-up. That's flexibility for you," Shastri had told in an interview.
But that flexibility was never applied and as a result, newbies coming into the side were pushed to number four, where there was a lot of scrutinies already. In the period after the 2015 World Cup, the few batsmen who did find a bit of success at the position are Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik. The likes of Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Manoj Tiwary, Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav have all failed.
One thing to note here is that the ones who did reasonably well at the position are all experienced players who have fulfilled other roles in the side. The newbies were always under too much pressure. If Kohli can move down to four, Rahul or Shreyas Iyer can slot in at number three and bat freely, knowing that Kohli is there to come below them. It also allows the big hitters coming after Kohli - Pant and Hardik - some breathing space.
The West Indies series is an ideal opportunity for India to test this. But this will mean the captain shedding his ego to go one down in the batting order. The number four position has been occupied by some greats of the game previously - the likes of Aravinda de Silva, AB de Villiers, Mahela Jayawardene, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad. Can Kohli bite a bullet for the team and embrace this new role?
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis