Ajinkya Rahane’s decline with the bat has been dramatic, and has led to increased questions over his place in the side.
But for the moment, it seems as if the India team management are sticking by their man. “I don’t get worried, you don’t get worried,” head coach Rahul Dravid said. “Of course you would like more runs from Ajinkya. I am sure he would like a few more runs. He is a quality player. He has done well for India in the past. He is one of those guys who has that quality. He has the experience. Hopefully it’s just a matter of an innings, a matter of a game where he can turn it around. Certainly he would like to score more runs. He knows that. And we know that.”
There’s a problem though. Full-time captain Virat Kohli will be back for the second Test, and his replacement in the middle order, Shreyas Iyer, was named Player of the Match for his record-breaking Test debut. So who sits out, if not Rahane? They will have to get creative if they want to avoid the obvious solution that’s right in front of them.
Get Pujara/Saha to open the innings
Every innings begins with the openers. So why only blame the middle-order? Mayank Agarwal hasn’t fired in recent Tests, even if he’s only had sporadic appearances over the last few months. Shubman Gill doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes. So why not drop either of these openers, and get in Cheteshwar Pujara, who averages 118 as an opener? Beat that Bradman! Or else get in Wriddhiman Saha at the top as Wasim Jaffer suggests. He has never opened for India, and barely kept in the first Test due to a stiff neck, but who knows? This could be India’s route to finding their own Romesh Kaluwitharana.
Drop Pujara, Iyer bats at three
Rahane’s not been great, but don’t sleep on Pujara’s poor run of form either. Since 2020, he has yielded 802 runs at an average of 27.65. There might be those who wax lyrical on his Sydney 2021 rearguard effort, but the truth is that the man hasn’t scored a Test hundred since January, 2019. The India vice-captain has scored three in that period. Pujara is the ultimate team man, and will do everything for team spirit, from offering throwdowns to get the other batters ready before they walk in to… suggesting he himself is the one left out to accommodate the captain, vice-captain, and star youngster? Let’s see.
Play only four bowlers
It’s been discussed plenty how the Mumbai track might have more in it for the bowlers than that used for the first Test, which brought about the first draw in India since 2017. Even then Ishant Sharma only got through 22 overs of work, so perhaps four bowlers is plenty. For those worrying that India might be a bowler short, always remember that Rahane has a better IPL bowling average than Shane Warne, Muthiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble, and Glenn McGrath.
But is it really worth it on the batting front? India’s tail has been one of their strengths recently, and their middle order, well, hasn’t. If India actually want to score more runs, maybe it’s worth bringing in Mohammad Siraj instead of Kohli or Pujara.
Leave out Shreyas
First in, first out. Sure, Shreyas Iyer’s good, but it takes more than becoming the only India batter with a century and a half-century on Test debut to edge out Rahane, a man who averages 32.73 in his last 50 Tests. He’s yet to truly experience the harsh nature of Test cricket. Maybe this could be perfect introduction, a way to show him it won’t always be this easy.
The captain who refused to play
There is one option that’s almost beyond thinking about (and one that does rather go against the title of this piece).
No, not dropping Rahane. That’s actually beyond thinking about.
Instead, why not leave out the captain, Virat Kohli? Whenever you miss a game, you’re always in danger of losing your place to the stand-in, and Shreyas Iyer certainly stood in effectively. And given Kohli’s been most praised as a captain for the attitude and spirit he’s imbued in India, perhaps he can do that job just as effectively from the dressing room.
Right out of the John Buchanan school of revolutionary thinking, we bring you the concept of non-playing captain. Kohli, one of the fab four players, can give up his spot to ensure that his vice-captain gets a good go in home conditions before the more challenging South Africa tour begins. It might only take one innings, after all.