Rahane, Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja, that was the Indian middle order when they lost to Australia in the 2015 World Cup Semi-final. By the time 2017 Champions Trophy final came around, Raina and Rahane had been replaced by Yuvraj and Jadhav, and Jadeja had slipped to Number 8 to make way for Pandya at Number 7.
For Asia Cup 2018, Yuvraj and Jadeja are no longer in the ODI mix, and Pandey, Jadhav, Rayudu, Karthik and Rahul will try to grab the two spots in the middle order that haven’t been filled for a few years now. Through it all, MS Dhoni has been the one consistent feature of the Indian middle order, though there is plenty of debate about his position in the batting order, whether he should come up at 4 to guide the innings or stay back at 6 to provide a finishing touch.
India has been trying hard to find the right combination in the middle of the batting order during these past three years. Rahane, Raina, Jadhav, Pandey, Rayudu, Karthik, Rahul, Manoj Tiwary, Uthappa, Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Gurkeerat Singh, all have been given a look during this time but the ODI batting has remained reliant on the top 3, Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli. Whenever one or two out of the top 3 score big, India end up with a huge total. However, if the opposition gets through the top 3 quickly, the rest of the batting often caves in quickly.
While Rahul is likely to slot in at 3 in Kohli’s absence and Dhoni is going to be there floating around the middle order, two slots remain open with Jadhav, Pandey, Rayudu and Karthik vying for those places.
Pandey has been in great form recently, finishing the recent quadrangular series for India B without being dismissed, hitting a century and two half centuries along the way and will consider himself desperately unlucky if he misses out on the playing XI.
Kedar Jadhav’s more than useful off spin provides an option that the other contenders don’t. Especially on batting tracks in the UAE, a captain will be very thankful to have an option to call upon if one of his main bowlers has an off day. He is also most likely to provide an explosive cameo if he comes in towards the end after a good start by the top 3 (His strike rate of 109 is the 2nd best in the Indian squad, behind Hardik Pandya).
Ambati Rayudu has been in and out of the Indian squad for a long time now and has failed to nail down a spot despite averaging 50 in the ODI format. An outstanding season in the IPL has pushed him into the national reckoning once more but then he failed the Yo-Yo test to miss out on the ODI series against England. Now he is back after clearing the test but will have to wait and see if he gets in the XI.
Dinesh Karthik’s last over heroics in the Nidahas Trophy final seems like ages ago, the wicketkeeper batsman had a nightmare in the Test series against England and will be looking to bounce back in this tournament. Having been around for nearly 15 years, he has only 80 ODI appearances to show for it but will be hoping for a more consistent run in the side on the back of his good performances in the shorter formats recently.
Whichever combination the Indian captain and coach decide in the end, these batsmen will know that time is running out for them to impress ahead of the World Cup next summer.