While India has a world-beating ODI unit and even a second-string side would pose a stiff challenge to hosts Sri Lanka in the upcoming three match series, there are still some positions which are up for grabs in the middle order. The most crucial is the number 4 position which has not seen permanent occupant since the great Yuvraj Singh ceased to be a regular member of the side from late 2013. Will the Sri Lanka series see the emergence of a new India number 4? While Virat Kohli and the management have been looking at Rishabh Pant to fill the position, is there a chance for someone like a Suryakumar Yadav to occupy that slot?
India has tried many options at number 4 post the exit of Yuvraj Singh (end 2013). From Ajinkya Rahane to Ambati Rayudu, from Dinesh Karthik to Manish Pandey - none of these batsmen could quite own the position and made it their own. India needed a playmaker at number 4 - someone who could build and play the long innings in the middle order but also step it up a gear and accelerate at the death and if the need and situation demanded. India has found it hard to find a player who has all these attributes and is a match-winner for them from the position.
Shreyas Iyer seems to be the best bet currently and has scored 463 runs in 12 innings at an average of 42.09 and strike rate of 97.67 with one hundred and 4 fifties from the position but a shoulder injury has kept him out of action since the ODI opener against England in March.
The other option for India is KL Rahul who scored a brilliant 108 from the position in the second ODI against England in Pune. But Rahul is also an accomplished opener in limited overs’ cricket and with Shikhar Dhawan well past 35 the team would look at the IPL run-machine to go back to accompany Rohit at the top of the order.
This leaves India with two options - Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar Yadav.
If India were touring with a full-strength squad, the position owned by Yuvraj Singh for most of the 2000s and early 2010s was likely to be taken by another swashbuckling left-hander also capable of single-handedly winning matches for India with the bat. While Pant scored a match-winning 78 off just 62 deliveries and won India the decider against England in Pune from number 4 in March, his overall record from the position is not flattering. Still early days but the left-hander has managed to score just 230 runs from 8 innings at an average of 28.75 and strike rate of 94.26 with just one fifty from number 4.This suggests that a better position for the destructive wicket-keeper batsman might be number 5 from where he has aggregated 254 runs in just 6 innings at an average of 42.33 and stunning strike rate of 146.82 with two fifties.India might still look to slot in Pant at number 4 in the long run as, just like Yuvraj, he has all the qualities to be a game-changer for the country from the position. Moreover, with Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja in the lower-half to push the ante at the death, Pant can be utilized in the top half to do some damage in the middle overs. The left-hander has showed great maturity and a fine temperament over the last few months, especially on the tour to Australia and the home series against England and though he has been brilliant in Test cricket there is no reason why he can’t consistently replicate that form in the ODIs too.
But Pant is currently in England and that gives a chance to someone like a Suryakumar Yadav to prove his mettle and fight for the number 4 position on the tour to Sri Lanka.
Suryakumar For Number 4 in Sri Lanka
Suryakumar Yadav has been a consistent and big run-getter across formats in the domestic circuit for India. He was in tremendous form for Mumbai Indians in the last three seasons of the IPL (2018-2020). He was the highest run-getter for Mumbai Indians in the IPL between 2018 and 2020 with an aggregate of 1416 runs and played a pivotal role with the bat in their successive title wins in 2019 and 2020. He did not let the presence of other superstars in the team like Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard to get to him and suppress his performances.
Although he has tasted success in the T20 format mostly and that too as an opener or from number 3, his versatility and other attributes make him an ideal candidate for number 4. He can drop anchor and play the role of the accumulator and innings-builder - a quintessential quality for a number 4 batsman. In 2020, he added that extra fire-power in his batting for the Mumbai Indians producing big scores at a high scoring rate - thus, Yadav is now a complete batsman who can be the playmaker from number 4 and then also provide the impetus with some big hitting at the death.
Yadav displayed some great qualities in his very first opportunity with the bat for India, albeit in a different format (T20 cricket). 1-2 down and batting first, the home team had to put up a massive total to break the trend and pattern in the series. Yadav, under pressure, produced a Player of the Match performance from the number three position hammering 57 off just 31 deliveries.
Yadav had a splendid couple of seasons in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy too - India’s premier domestic T20 tournament - in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He aggregated 360 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 145.16 in the 2018-19 season and 392 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 168.97 in the 2019-20 season. This suggests that, of late, he has been working on his ‘destructive prowess’ and harnessing that aspect of his game too.
While he has not represented India yet in ODIs, Yadav has a fine record in List A cricket with an aggregate of 2779 runs in 87 innings at an average of 37.55 and strike rate of 103.88 with three hundreds and 17 fifties.
He had a brilliant season in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2021 where playing for Mumbai he scored 332 runs in 5 matches at an average of 66.4 and strike rate of 151.59 including a hundred and two fifties. Interestingly, two of his best knocks came from the number 4 position in the tournament. Yadav blasted a stunning 133 off just 58 deliveries against Puducherry in Jaipur which remains of the most destructive hundreds in Indian List A history! He also registered a fine 50 off just 33 deliveries against a good Delhi attack from number 4 again in Jaipur.
India should persist with Yadav at number 4 through the three-match series in Sri Lanka. By the end of it, they might have just found a strong candidate for the pivotal middle order position.