@swaris16 6 minute read
The Indian team, without mainstays Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant, gear up to face Australia in a four-match Test series in February, with a World Test Championship final berth on the line for both sides. They, however, have a number of key selection calls ahead of them.
Bumrah will not be available for the first two Test matches, while the inclusion of Shreyas Iyer and Ravindra Jadeja are subject to their fitness. Pant is expected to miss the majority of 2023 after a horrific car accident in December, putting India in a selection dilemma ahead of the first Test match, in Nagpur.
Here are the four selection headaches the hosts will have ahead of the first Australia Test on February 9.
Who are the openers?
KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill have all been playing musical chairs with the opening role due to frequent injuries to all three players. Rahul and Rohit impressed on India’s tour to England in 2021, but have not opened together since then, with injuries keeping at least one out of the XI. Gill batted at the top with Rahul in Bangladesh, but with all three cricketers fit, a selection dilemma awaits the management.
Who will partner Rohit? With hundreds in Lord’s and Centurion, Rahul had as good as cemented his place in 2021. But in 2022, he averaged only 17.12 with one fifty across eight innings. As vice-captain, he is likely to hold the edge despite his recent run. When Australia last toured India, in 2016/17, Rahul amassed 393 runs at 65.50 with six fifties in seven innings.
Gill, on the other hand, is in excellent form across formats. He has three hundreds along with a double ton and a 70 in his last 11 innings. Keeping out a batter in the midst of a purple patch in favour of a struggling one could prove to be disastrous. He struck a magnificent 91 at the Gabba two years ago. His Test form fluctuated thereafter, but the maiden ton in Bangladesh helps him stake a claim. Yet, at the same time, he averages only 26.30 across 11 innings on home soil.
He also looks to play his shots and doesn’t get tied down. If Gill does not open, an opportunity presents itself at No.5 as well.
Who bats at No.5 if Shreyas Iyer is not fit?
Iyer has had a remarkable start to his Test career, averaging just under 57 after seven Tests with one hundred and five fifties. He was ruled out of the New Zealand ODIs due to a back injury. If he is unable to recover in time, India’s middle-order woes will increase.
One of Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, and Gill are the most likely to fill in, with the latter having the edge. Gill is exceptional against spin, and with the first two venues of the series – Nagpur and Delhi – aiding the slower bowlers, Gill could be a handy option. However, he is a backup opener and has not batted below No.3 in his Test career, and the team could be wary of throwing him into a new role in a crucial series.
Yadav’s is a curious case. He is a T20I giant, but he has not been able to replicate the same in ODIs, where he averages below 30. Guilty of playing too many shots too early in the innings, Yadav has a first-class average of 44.75, but he is untested in the format at the highest level.
India can give call up the in-form Sarfaraz Khan if Iyer fails to pass the fitness test, but they might not want to throw him directly in the XI with an inexperienced keeper to follow.
Ishan Kishan or KS Bharat – who will be the keeper?
The versatile genius Pant will be missed, and India will have to compromise on either wicketkeeping or batting. Pant’s keeping, especially at home against spin, has improved significantly, while his fearless batting down the order has turned the course of Test matches. In his absence, Kishan and Bharat are enlisted as the keepers, with India also having the unlikely option of asking Rahul to wear the gloves.
Bharat has been around the Indian Test squad for a while now and is the better of the two keepers. He averages 37.95 in 86 games – not impressive numbers but then, Kishan averages 38.76 in 48 games. Bharat has made two eighties in the ongoing Ranji season and a fifty against Bangladesh A, so has form on his side.
As a left-hander, Kishan will hold an edge in a line-up that will have no left-hander until No.8 if Jadeja misses out. He scores quicker than Bharat, and can take the game to the opposition. He played a couple of handy knocks with the India A team in South Africa, including a fighting 91 in 153 balls when his team was in trouble at 92-4. At the same time, he has not kept wicket in India in red-ball cricket since the global lockdown.
In short, India have a choice between a better keeper and a more fearless batter.
What should the bowling attack look like?
Do they play three seamers or an extra spinner?
Jamtha, the venue for the first Test, has traditionally aided spin. The wicket even got a ‘poor’ rating after an India-South Africa Test match ended in three days in 2015. A few days ago, the venue saw a low-scoring Ranji game, where Gujarat were shot out for 54 chasing 73 against Vidarbha, with left-arm spinners accounting for all nine wickets that fell to bowlers.
The nature of the pitch makes it likely that India will go in with three spinners, with R Ashwin and Axar Patel as certainties. If Jadeja is fit, he will slot in at No.7, and Kuldeep Yadav will have to miss out. At Nos. 8 and 9, Ashwin and Axar will also batting depth. The possibility of playing three seamers looks bleak in the first Test, with Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj likely to get the nod ahead of Umesh Yadav and Jaydev Unadkat.