With KL Rahul out with injury, and Kohli, Rohit as well as Pant resting, it’s a chance for India to check the backup
Indian Test cricket has been on a high on either side of the capitulation in the World Test Championship final. Much of its evolution as a powerhouse has revolved around the potency of the bowling resources. Over the last three years, the bowlers – pacemen in particular – have excelled in various conditions to help the team achieve historic success. But what the bowlers have also done is to hide the weaknesses in the batting line-up which has often crumbled irrespective of conditions.
It’s a rarity in Indian cricket that batting has looked like the weaker link. And while India have managed to create an enviable pace-bowling pool, they are now scratching for reliable Test batting options.
The two-Test series against New Zealand that starts in Kanpur on Thursday is a good opportunity to check how soft the underbelly is. It could potentially signal the start of the process of the middle-order’s transition.
Regular Test skipper Virat Kohli is missing in action for the first Test. Rohit Sharma has opted for rest and the inform KL Rahul has been ruled out of the series due to a muscle strain in his left thigh. Stamped as a Test specialist, Hanuma Vihari is literally on trial with the India ‘A’ team in South Africa for next month’s Test series in South Africa.
Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara – captain and vice-captain in the first Test – who both are struggling to score convincing runs for a while now have no hiding place in this scenario. Both of them are about to turn 34. While their experience is invaluable, there’s not much time to prepare a seasoned backup. Remember when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid vacated their spots after 15 years of manning the Test middle order, Indian team went through a painful period.
The addition of Suryakumar Yadav in the Test squad in place of Rahul is a sign that new head coach Rahul Dravid is looking to check out all the options available. Dravid will also be watching Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill with keen interest.
Rahul’s injury is certain to give Gill the opener’s spot. Gill has played all his international cricket as an opener before a shin injury ruled him out of the England tour in July. But as TOI understands, he is seen as a valuable middle-order prospect in Test cricket.
“I can’t reveal that (Gill’s batting positions) at this stage and he is a talented player. Someone like him doesn’t need to worry too much and has played good cricket for the last couple of years. He will just have to play his natural game but I can’t reveal the position he will bat at,” was Pujara’s reply to a query on Gill’s role in the team.
TOI has learned that the reason why Iyer was preferred over Vihari is because the team management wanted an attacking option in the middle order with Rohit, Virat and Rishabh Pant resting. The line of thinking is to have players who can open up a game with counterattacking abilities. Pujara, Rahane, Vihari and Wriddhiman Saha are believed to be bringing in a bit of sameness to the batting line-up and there’s room for aggression.
Following the disappointment of the WTC final and the T20 World Cup, it’s obvious that there’s much work to do for Dravid to stabilize the ship. Pujara and Rahane would only benefit from his calm.
“We were all hurt after the WTC final but we came back strongly in the Test series. New coach Rahul bhai is there and so that will help most of the players especially young players who have worked with Rahul bhai during U-19 and India ‘A’ days. Even experienced players like us have played with Rahul bhai and worked with him during ‘A’ series,” Pujara said on Tuesday.