India need to give longer rope to No. 4 aspirants

Manish Pandey was beaten by a quicker delivery from Ashton Agar Associated Press

Since the 2015 World Cup, India have won six out of nine bilateral series, and played the final of an ICC tournament. In that same period, they have also tried 11 different batsmen at No. 4. Such a drastic turnover rate - no other team has had to dig through their reserves to such an extent - can't be helpful but so far it hasn't proved costly to Virat Kohli and his men.

That's only because there have been some pretty stirring rescue acts. In Chennai, Hardik Pandya intervened. In Kolkata, Bhuvneshwar Kumar. In Pallekele, MS Dhoni weathered a Sri Lankan uprising. In London, there was no one.

No. 4 is a vital position in any form of cricket. And in ODIs it requires an exacting set of skills. The flexibility to raise the tempo of an innings going well or rebuild one that is going horribly wrong, the wherewithal to look ahead, but not so far that it starts playing with the mind, and the confidence to adeptly play both pace and spin.

India are on the hunt to find men who can step up to these demands, investing in Kedar Jadhav (30 ODIs) Manish Pandey (15 ODIs) and KL Rahul (10 ODIs) as middle-order options. It is far too early to discard any of them, with Jadhav averaging 46.20, Pandey 38.88 and Rahul 35.42. But that doesn't mean their performances won't be judged.

There was a great opportunity at Eden Gardens. Australia were in strife. Their two main bowlers, and wicketkeeper, were suffering under the glare of a scorching sun. Two top-order batsmen had already made fifties. If all went well, India would soar past 300.

Pandey was in at No. 4. He was new to the crease and would have felt vulnerable. Everyone does at that stage. But he had walked onto a solid platform - 121 for 2 with more than half the innings left. If he showed proper care, he had the time to get in and go big. But a quicker delivery from Ashton Agar floored him. India then went on to lose three more wickets between overs 36 and 40 and had to rely on Bhuvneshwar, a man who has confessed he struggles to hit boundaries, for that crucial final push.

In an alternate reality, Pandey would have overcome his nervous start - as he does in the IPL - and Australia would have been forced to call back their main bowlers - as opposed to Kane Richardson relieving Nathan Coulter-Nile - and the total would have been much larger than 252.

Doing little things like that well is what India want from their No. 4. But they might have to make changes to the way they go about rectifying this situation too.

It is now apparent that an ageing Yuvraj Singh was only a stop-gap solution ahead of the Champions Trophy. And that his tally of 358 runs in nine innings over the last two years remains unchallenged speaks of how no one in the pipeline has been able to impress.

Here are their tales: Rahul has been challenged to remodel himself if he wants a place in the ODI XI. Ajinkya Rahane functions as back-up opener. Manoj Tiwary, Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu have vanished. Perhaps moving Dhoni up might help - his first instinct now is to accumulate rather than attack - but there may yet be more merit in keeping him at No. 5 or 6 because then there are more chances of him batting with, and helping mould, Hardik Pandya.

So let's look at the latest to put their hands up. In Sri Lanka, Rahul was given first dibs at No. 4. But he was upstaged by Pandey. Now Pandey has not started well against Australia. What are India going to do?

Both players are talented. One of them made his maiden ODI hundred away from home and it won them the game. The other is one of three batsmen in the country with centuries in all formats. The most viable point of separation between them is the fact that Pandey has been playing as a middle-order batsman for most of his life whereas Rahul has built his career as an opener.

It may not be decision time yet, with the World Cup a couple of years away, but it is difficult to ignore the feeling that if one of them is given a longer rope, they just might become what the team is looking for. After all, Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are India's best one-day batsmen and they know exactly what positions they'll bat at. Every single time.