Rayudu shows signs of solving India's No.4 conundrum

Ambati Rayudu got the nod ahead of others, with skipper Virat Kohli emphasising on the fact that the Hyderabad batsman will be given ample game-time before the mega-event next year.

Ambati Rayudu made an unbeaten 26-ball 22 during India's win over West Indies in the first ODI.   -  AP

Questions were asked about India’s No.4 spot, before the start of the five-match ODI series against West Indies.

There was a vacancy to fill, and with the ICC World Cup only about seven months away, the sooner the team gained clarity on the subject the better.

With Dinesh Karthik unlucky to miss out on a place in the squad, the choices boiled down to Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and K.L. Rahul.

It was Rayudu who got the nod, with skipper Virat Kohli emphasising on the fact that the Hyderabad batsman will be given ample game-time before the mega-event next year.

Rayudu did get some time in the middle during the first ODI at Guwahati, but it was by no means an extended stay.

When he walked in to bat, India needed only 67 runs from 17 overs. The Kohli-Rohit Sharma show had yielded 246 runs for the second-wicket, and had effectively sealed the fate of the encounter.

Faced with a simple task and a deflated bowling attack, Rayudu made the most of it with a calm, unbeaten 26-ball 22.

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The 33-year-old is sure to face sterner tests soon, perhaps on the Australia tour if not in these West Indies outings.

The Indian team management, and indeed Rayudu himself, wouldn’t mind it too much if he is thrown into more challenging situations. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, as the saying goes.

On the bowling front, the exclusion of Kuldeep Yadav from the eleven raised a new set of questions.

Was Kuldeep, India’s most successful ODI bowler this year (36 wickets), dropped? If this is the case, it would imply that leggie Yuzvendra Chahal is the first-choice spinner.

Or could it be that Kuldeep was simply rested? The left-arm chinaman bowler did feature in the Test series earlier, while Chahal did not.

A break – though an unusual move for the opening game of a series – could serve Kuldeep well for the tough season ahead.

Chahal, for his part, did exceptionally well to record figures of three for 41 on a flat batting beauty at Guwahati.

Or perhaps, could this be a stop-gap arrangement to preserve the team-balance in the absence of the injured Hardik Pandya?

When a fit-again Pandya returns, he can fill the third seamer and the all-rounder spots.

This could lead to the exit of Khaleel Ahmed and Ravindra Jadeja, allowing Kuldeep to regain his place. Those outside the Indian dressing room do not have a definitive answer to this riddle yet.

The fast bowling trio of Khaleel, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav did not make much of an impression.

Shami (two for 81) was quick but expensive, while left-arm seamer Khaleel (one for 64) and Umesh (none for 64) were steady if not incisive.

Though the excellent batting conditions did not help their cause, the three pacers will do well to take it up a notch.

Opportunities may dry up once the first-choice picks – Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, both rested – make their way back.