Virat Kohli is like India’s warranty card: Sanjay Manjrekar
Virat Kohli is the top-ranked batsman in ODIs heading to the World Cup. © AFP

Former India batsman turned TV analyst Sanjay Manjrekar believes that India‘s middle order could prove the team’s undoing at the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup because not enough candidates have put their hands up, and that the inability of Virat Kohli‘s team-mates to bat like him in ODIs is a big concern.

Picking his squad of 15 for the World Cup in England, Manjrekar left out Ambati Rayudu – the man whom India have backed for over six months as their No 4 – and “grudgingly” included Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav.

“The current issue with India’s likely World Cup team is that only the captain can bat as per the needs of the situation. Rohit [Sharma] tries but isn’t as successful; Shikhar [Dhawan] plays more for survival than trying to lead the team to a win with the bat; and Dhoni has an approach that keeps us all on the edge of our seats,” he wrote in his column for ESPNcricinfo. (READ: Ganguly picks Pujara as India’s No. 4 for World Cup)

“Kohli is like a warranty card for India. When you watch him in 50-over cricket, can you slot him into a category of a defensive or an attacking batsman? No. He is just a champion batsman who wins games for his teams. When the team needs five runs an over, he will try to get five an over and not ten, like others around him seem to try.

I am hearing some state-level coaches murmur that whatever the format, young batsmen these days want to project themselves as T20 batsmen lest they get slotted as non-T20 players. This is interesting and perhaps one of the reasons why India don’t have a dependable No. 4. What’s really baffling is that with someone as iconic and inspirational as Kohli around, why don’t others want to bat like him?”

The No 4 slot has been a problem for India, with as many as 11 players batted at that slot in the last three years. Rayudu got the most innings (16) followed by Yuvraj Singh (10), Dinesh Karthik (9), MS Dhoni (7), Manish Pandey (6), Hardik Pandya and Ajinkya Rahane (5), KL Rahul and Jadhav (3) and Kohli and Rishabh Pant (1).

Manjrekar does not see Ambati Rayudu in India's World Cup squad. © AFP
Manjrekar does not see Ambati Rayudu in India’s World Cup squad. © AFP

Assessing the batsmen who were given opportunities but failed to cement their spots, Manjrekar singled out the ability to absorb pressure as the key.

“Whether its Pandey, Rayudu, Karthik, Jadhav, Rishabh Pant or Vijay, they all depend too much on the big shot to get out of a tight corner. This approach is unnecessarily high risk when you want five runs an over, unless you are a prodigiously gifted attacking batsman,” he wrote. “From what I have seen, Pant tends to miss half the time when trying to hit big. Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Rayudu and Co never did this enough for the selectors to keep faith in them. Jadhav is a little better off here and his offspinners help him out. (READ: If Kohli has a good World Cup, India will win it: Ricky Ponting)

“The problem with all the contenders we have seen for Nos. 4 and 5 has been their consistency and ability. The World Cup is in England, and even if it’s the white ball, it is going to seam around. This is where all these candidates worry me.”

Manjrekar did not see Rayudu – who after scores of 13, 18 and 2 was dropped from India’s XI during the recent Australia series – going to the World Cup and expressed concern over Jadhav.

“After a good score, the way Rayudu gets bowled off a ball that has moved off the seam ruins all the good work he had done until then. That’s why I remain unconvinced by him,” he wrote. “Same with Jadhav. If India are 20 for 3, it’s hard to see him handling a spell of good seam bowling in England with composure, showing a good defence, ticking off singles whenever he can, building a partnership and then, in the last few overs, going for the big shots.

“My choice for Nos. 4 and 5 are Vijay and Jadhav respectively, but I must confess I pick them a bit grudgingly. And here’s something I believe: whatever team the selectors pick, India will go to this World Cup with a soft underbelly, which will be their middle order.