ASIA CUP: Who will be No.4 for India now—Iyer or Kohli?

The unavailability of KL Rahul for first two games, which was surely expected, keeps the conundrum alive ahead of the battle against Pakistan

Shreyas Iyer (left) and Virat Kohli share a laugh (photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Shreyas Iyer (left) and Virat Kohli share a laugh (photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Four years after the 2019 ICC World Cup, the conundrum of the No.4 has come back to haunt India again, as they plan to use the Asia Cup as a dress rehearsal for the biggest trophy of the sport—this time, playing on home turf (meaning higher pressure than ever!).

The unavailability of KL Rahul for the two group games in Sri Lanka, as expected, brings up a question mark over that key batting position which troubled them in England too. 

The injuries sustained by Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant — as rued by head coach Rahul Dravid on the eve of their departure for the Asia Cup — underlined the team's predicament and forced it to try a few experiments during the three ODIs in the West Indies.

‘’There is an impression that we do not have clarity on who is going to be there. I could have told you 18 months ago who is going to play at No. 4 and No. 5 slots. It was always going to be between KL, Shreyas and Rishabh. There was no doubt in our minds,’’ The Wall said.

But now, he must put his mind to it again.  

For, while Dravid's point is well taken, none of these injuries really came at the eleventh hour.

Rahul’s last one was sustained in May, at the peak of the IPL (Indian Premier League) season. Iyer missed the whole of the IPL itself, while Pant has been out since that life-threatening road accident last December.

For all the talk of India’s assembly line of talent, their team management has mostly toed a conservative line in approaching the big tournaments in recent history. The result: both Rahul and Iyer, out of competitive matches for a formidable length of time, have now been pressed into service in a key tournament with little time to prepare. 

While the BCCI’s desperation to give Rahul a long rope is understandable in view of his experience, ability to multi-task and performance as a makeshift opener in 2019, fitness is an area which should be non-negotiable.

There is now talk that Ishan Kishan is likely to find a place in the playing XI—and it's a pity that it needed an injury to a senior colleague for the management to mull this over. 

The left-handed batter-wicketkeeper, ever since breaking through in the 50-overs format, had shown the X-factor to be in the mix for World Cup this year. The three-match ODI series in the Caribbean saw him scoring back-to-back 50s, having already booked a spot in an exclusive club of double centurions in this format alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma. 

Meanwhile, speaking on his own Youtube channel recently, South African great AB de Villiers said India has the best solution at hand already to solve their No.4 conundrum — an in-form Virat Kohli.

‘’I think Virat is perfect for No.4," said de Villiers, a good friend to Kohli through the IPL years. "He can put the innings together, play any kind of role in that middle order. I don’t know if he would like to do that. We know he loves his No. 3 position. He’s scored all his runs there. But at the end of the day, if the team needs you to do something, play a certain role, you have got to put your hand up and go for it.’’ 

At the end of the day, if the team needs you to do something, play a certain role, you have got to put your hand up and go for it.
AB de Villiers, veteran South African cricketer

Batting at No. 4, Kohli has scored seven centuries and has a highly impressive average of 55.21 with a strike-rate of 90.66.

However, records say that the master batter has not batted in that position since January 2020 against Australia in Mumbai. Skipper Rohit Sharma had said after the election committee meeting that his batters should be flexible to bat at any position. 

Will it be Kohli then, or Iyer at No. 4? Even if the former skipper agrees to the switch-up, there is always a risk of opening up a bit of hole in the No. 3 position by moving Kohli down the order.  

We will find out more on Saturday, 2 September, against Pakistan — the No.1 ODI team at the moment and, in Ravi Ashwin’s words, a "hell of a team".

If the weather permits in Kandy, that is!  

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