Despite flying out of England with a 2-1 lead in the Test series, India have a number of issues to solve before the next assignment. Sarah Waris looks at the nagging questions facing India.
From Rohit Sharma’s brilliant run to Shardul Thakur’s meteoric rise in the format, Virat Kohli’s team returns from the UK after dominating the crucial moments in what was an engaging series. However, they will be aware of pertinent questions before the next Test season begins.
Who will be the regular opener in the side?
While Rohit has sealed his spot in the XI with his ability to see off the new ball consistently, the choice for the second opener comes down to Shubman Gill or KL Rahul, both of whom have fared well in their limited chances of late. Gill, who made his debut against Australia, averages 31.84 after eight Tests, which rises to an impressive 51.80 away from home (excluding neutral venues). He had looked solid in the WTC final as well and would have been the opener against England if not for injury.
Rahul, who was given a chance after Gill and Mayank Agarwal were ruled out (the latter was injured ahead of the first game) made the most of his chance, scoring 315 runs, the second-most from India in the series. His temperament was applauded, but with Gill in the fray as well, India will have some tough decisions to make. With the middle-order options not the strongest pushing either Rahul or Gill to bat lower than their preferred position might be an option worth considering.
Is it the end of the road for Ravichandran Ashwin overseas?
Kohli was adamant in sticking to his much-criticised template of four seamers and a spinner throughout the Test series, which meant that Ashwin, a bowler with 413 Test scalps, had to warm the benches. Kohli’s tactics, however, did work out in the end, especially on day five at The Oval, where Ravindra Jadeja got the ball to rise from the rough, which meant that Ashwin’s presence was not missed as much.
With India ending the series with a lead, it forces us to ask the question: what next for Ashwin when India travel overseas? The off-spinner had been backed by the management during the WTC final, where he found a place in the XI despite the heavy rain around. He ended the match with four wickets in the game, which was followed by a six-for for Surrey against Somerset, but his repeated omissions in England makes one believe that Kohli has decided to put his trust in the quicks away from home — not without reason — and that barring a turner here and there, Ashwin will have to wait for his chances.
Where are the middle-order options?
A lot was spoken about Ajinkya Rahane’s poor run of form — the vice-captain averaged 15.57 during the series — but other than Hanuma Vihari, India do not have a strong candidate to further increase the pressure on him. Suryakumar Yadav, the only other option in the current squad, averages just over 44 in FC cricket and last played a four-day game in February, but he has created waves for his white-ball skills more than his abilities against the red ball. With no other player knocking on the door for the spot immediately, India could be in trouble against South Africa in case of injuries without much batting depth.
Who are the first-choice quicks?
With Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Umesh Yadav all doing their part in the series against England, India’s investment in improving their fast bowling resources seems to have paid off. However, with Shardul Thakur’s rise and the batting prowess that he brings, it remains to be seen who the first-choice fast bowlers are when all are fit and raring to go. While Bumrah is a certainty, Kohli will have plenty to ponder over when it comes to the others. Siraj has been one of the finds of the year, but he waned somewhat by the series end, while Ishant’s injury meant that he proved to be inconsistent. Shami has not been the luckiest bowler when touring overseas, while Umesh is seen more as a replacement player than a first-choice. The quicks, though, combined to pick up 61 wickets that fell through the series, and the side will readily take the problem of plenty that awaits them in their next Test outing.
Is time finally up for Rahane?
The long-standing debate. Despite the India camp’s repeated claims that Rahane remains a vital member of the XI, his demotion in the fourth Test indicated that the vice-captain will have to overturn his poor patch, and quickly. The player averages just over 19 in 2021 and has just four Test hundreds since the beginning of 2017. He has two fifties in the last 19 innings, and his inconsistent run of form, despite what the camp makes us believe, remains a major concern.