Stop experimenting, bat MS Dhoni at No 4 in World Cup: Anil Kumble
MS Dhoni averages 81.75 at a strike-rate of 78.22 in ODIs this year. © AFP

Former India captain and coach Anil Kumble believes that MS Dhoni is the batsman best suited for the No 4 spot in India’s team for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, and that the team needs to understand the value of having a formidable top order finishing off matches.

Kumble, who coached the Indian cricket team from 2016 to 2017, feels that India’s middle order is not a settled unit with no more ODIs before the World Cup starts on May 30. (READ: Five takeaways from the India-Australia ODI series)

While Ambati Rayudu had been identified as India’s No 4 by Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma last year, he was dropped for the last two ODIs after failing in the first three. KL Rahul returned for the fourth ODI and batted at No 3, with Kohli dropping down a spot. For the decider in New Delhi, Rahul was omitted from India’s XI with Rishabh Pant getting to bat at No 4. He made 16 off 16 balls. (READ: India concede series in pursuit of fringe benefits)

The No 4 spot has been a problem for several years, which Kumble felt should be occupied by Dhoni.

“If you look back at the last couple of years of success that the Indian team has had, it has been mainly due to the fact that the top three have performed consistently, and it still remains so. In a 50-over game, you want your top three to contribute,” he told CricketNext. “But what if they don’t contribute? That’s why we’re discussing and debating our middle order. (READ: Never underestimate the importance of MS Dhoni: Michael Clarke)

“For me, I still believe MS Dhoni should bat at 4. [Numbers] 5, 6 and 7 is something that you need to start thinking about and that’s where I felt that there was too much chopping, changing and trying to figure out who will fit in into that 4, 5 or 6 in that middle order other than MS Dhoni. That to me has made it a little more unsettling for us, watching from outside.”

Virat Kohli now stands behind only Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs.
Virat Kohli now stands behind only Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs. © AFP

Kumble, India’s most successful wicket-taker in Tests, also wondered whether the team management had assessed their World Cup combinations properly.

“I’m not really sure the Indian team believes that they’re still a little unsure about that position. But in a World Cup you want everybody to contribute,” he said. “What if the top three don’t fire in an important game, say a semi-final or a final? Then you need the back-ups to stand up and do it and that’s where I believe that the middle order hasn’t been given enough opportunities leading up to the World Cup and haven’t been consistent with the players that have been selected in that middle order.”

India’s current coach Ravi Shastri has spoken about the option of getting Kohli to bat at No 4 – a spot he’s only been used at once since 2015 – but Kumble did not agree.

“Virat is so good a player that he can bat anywhere in the batting order … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, wherever you want him to bat. But I think, ideally you’d want the top three to be finishing things off and that’s what’s been successful over the last couple of years for India, where you have Shikhar [Dhawan], Rohit or Virat, three of them performing consistently,” he said.

“So, I’d like to probably continue that and like I said, for me the top four will win you 70-80% of matches and ideally your top four need to have that quality and that’s why I’m keen that someone like MS Dhoni bats at four and manages the middle order, rather than coming in where he has to not just manage the middle order but also keep up with the run chase, that’s something I would want to see.”