The India tour of England might have been a successful one for India, but, it did throw up certain questions for the team to answer going forward. While the Indian middle-order has worn the same look for the last few years, things might change soon.
Ajinkya Rahane’s form and the frequent lower middle-order collapses have been a cause of concern for the team for some time now. To add to these worries are the diminishing returns from the bats of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in recent times. Even though India will hope that their three middle-order regulars continue to prosper in the near future, they will need to make arrangements for contingencies.
Here are eight middle-order options for India in Tests they could turn to in the future:
The current fringe
Test record: 12 matches, 624 runs @ 32.84, one hundred, HS:111
First-class record: 94 matches, 7,261 runs @ 55, 21 hundreds, HS: 302
Hanuma Vihari’s last Test appearance saw him partake in one of the finest rearguard actions in the history of the game. Vihari has been willing to serve the team in whatever role is entrusted to him. He has opened the innings in the hour of need and has also bowled with success at the highest level. With all the makings of a strong middle-order batsman and age on his side, Vihari can be a good option for many years to come.
First-class record: 77 matches, 5,326 runs @ 44.01, 14 hundreds, HS: 200
A late entrant into the Indian cricket setup, Suryakumar Yadav nevertheless has impressed one and all with his limited appearances in the blue shirt. They were good enough to get him selected for the tour of England. He might not have the most impressive numbers, but is an attacking option who has been praised by many former players and experts. A player with intent and the right mindset is just what India need right now.
The openers who could shift down
Test record: 40 matches, 2,321 runs @ 35.16, six hundreds, HS:199
First-class record: 83 matches, 6,218 runs @ 46.05, 16 hundreds, HS: 337
While KL Rahul has pretty much secured his place as an opener for the near-future, he wouldn’t be a bad option for the Indian middle-order should the need arise. A compact batsman, he has batted in the middlenorder for the India Test team in the past. India already has several opening options at the top, (Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw) and Rahul is one of the few openers who is adept at serving needs of his team down the order as well. The presence of someone like Shaw orGill at the top with Rahul in the middle would allow the batting line-up to wear an aggressive look across situations.
First-class record: 64 matches, 4,401 runs @ 43.57, 13 hundreds, HS: 233
Abhimanyu has served his state team well in the top-order and can be a good option for No.3. He is one of the players who’s been on the radar of the India selectors, having been a stand-by in the recently finished England tour. He has played some blistering knocks for Bengal at the domestic level, including a splendid 183 which helped them chase down a target of 322 runs with ease. Aged only 26, he can fulfil the needs of Indian batting order in time to come.
The young guns
First-class record: 54 matches, 4,592 runs @ 52.18, 12 hundreds, HS: 202*
The 26-year-old’s first-class record is further embellished by his strike-rate which sits at 81.54. The Mumbai batsman has already made a name for himself in the IPL and the India limited-overs setup. His batting style, which allows him to score big runs at a quick rate, can complement the likes of Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant in the side. Also, his leadership experience makes him a prospective captaincy option for India in the future.
First-class record: 17 matches, 1463 runs @ 66.5, 4 hundreds, HS: 301*
The Mumbai youngster was touted as the next big thing in the Indian cricket, but lost an important period of his cricketing career shifting between states before returning back to Mumbai. His talent was visible for all at a very young age, when he smashed a flawless 45 off 21 in the 2015 IPL for the RCB. He showed that he can replicate his form in first-class cricket in the last Ranji season, when he scored 928 runs at an average of 154.66, with a triple and double hundred to his name. Given his performances, it seems that it will only be a matter of time before he joins the Indian setup.
The old heads
Test record: Six matches, 374 runs @ 62.33, one hundred, HS: 303*
First-class record: 82 matches, 5631 runs @ 48.12, 14 hundreds, HS: 328
Karun Nair is only the second person to score a triple hundred for India in Test cricket, yet finds himself far away from the national setup. The very fact that his highest first-class score is greater than his highest Test score shows the calibre of this player. He might have seen a spell of indifferent form in the last few years (though he did score 870 runs @ 48.33 in the 2019-20 season), but his record shows that he has enough mettle to perform at the highest level. He can build a patient innings and then go for the big runs after settling in.
Test record: 11 matches, 532 runs @ 31.29, one hundred, HS: 108
First-class record: 29 matches, 1351 runs @ 30.02, one hundred, HS: 108
While originally selected as a fast-bowling all-rounder, it seems clear to one and all that Hardik Pandya’s injury issues have put the brakes on those plans. Currently out of the India Test setup, the man from Baroda remains central to India’s limited overs plans. In better fitness, Pandya can be an aggressive lower middle-order option for India who can bowl if needed. He has already scored a Test hundred against Sri Lanka, and a blistering 93 in South Africa. His main value lies in the fact that he can improve the overall balance of the side.
Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match awards, player interviews, analysis and much more.