17 January 2018 08:44 AM

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SANDIPAN BANERJEE | 13 JANUARY, 2018

India’s Team Selection: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Effort now is to strengthen the batting order


CENTURION, CAPE TOWN: Cricket is a funny game and in a week’s time perspectives can change drastically. The ongoing South Africa-India Test series is a classic example of that.

Before the start of the series in Cape Town, we were considering this tour as India’s best chance to register a Test series win in South Africa. Ranked number one in the world, the Virat Kohli-led side came into this series all based covered but right after the crushing defeat at Newlands, it seems the team management needs to plug quite a few holes in the playing eleven ahead of the Centurion Test, which starts from Saturday.

Known for producing pacy and bouncy tracks, the SuperSport Park Centurion is a stronghold of the Proteas. They have won 17 of their 22 Test matches at this particular venue. India have only played here once back in 2010 and suffered an innings defeat.

With 0-1 down in the three-match series, for Kohli’s India, the Centurion Test is a must-win fixture, if they want to keep the hopes of a series triumph alive.

Well, legends say, desperate times calls for desperate measures. It seems the Indian think-tank has already adopted this strategy.

Following two batting collapses at Newlands, the Indians are desperately looking to sort out their batting woes. The team management knows, they have an attack to challenge the South African batting but their batsmen are still not well equipped to handle the fierce Protea seam attack. They also know this issue cannot be sorted out overnight. Hence, they are now looking to strengthen the batting department as much as possible.

Thus, with batting being the primary criteria of selection, it is most likely that wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha — who scored 0 and 8 at Newlands — will make way for Parthiv Patel. With the keeping gloves Saha had a brilliant game in Cape Town (Took record-breaking 10 catches in the match) but here in South Africa, the team doesn’t have enough faith on him as a batsman. Hence, Parthiv, who is regarded as a better batsman than Saha, comes into the scheme of things.

In the opening position, KL Rahul’s selection in place of Shikhar Dhawan seems like a no-brainer, especially after the ways Dhawan got out in both the innings of the last Test. In the net-session here in Centurion Rahul has looked far more active than Dhawan, which is good enough for us to decode the thought process of the team management.

Furthermore, the visitors would like to accommodate Ajinkya Rahane in the playing eleven as well. Rahane is one of the three Indian batsmen in the current team, who averages more than 50 in overseas Tests. In Cape Town, he was dropped from the side due to his recent awful form. However, his replacement Rohit Sharma too failed to impress. Now, ideally, in this must-win fixture the team should go back to Rahane and Kohli gave a clear hint regarding this change in the pre-match presser.

“He’s [Rahane] a quality player, he’s done well in South Africa, all conditions actually away from home. He’s probably been our most consistent and solid player away from home. I explained the reasons why Rohit started ahead of him. I’m not saying that Ajinkya cannot or will not start in this game. Possibilities are all open at the moment and we shall decide after practice.”

In the spin department, we can expect a fit-again Ravindra Jadeja to replace Ravichandran Ashwin. Though traditionally the Centurion track doesn’t help the spinners but this time due to the extreme heat over here spin might come into play in the third or fourth innings and Jadeja is India’s first-choice spinner overseas.

Basically, it is a classic case of horses for courses situation and Kohli described the priorities of the team management quite aptly.

“Look all kind of situations [regarding team combination] are possible…what are the pros and cons that come along with the scenarios,” he said. “You finally come to a conclusion that feels balanced among all the situations you are thinking of. As I said all kinds of possibilities are here. We have had a look at how games have panned out in the past here and how many overs have been bowled by fast bowlers and spinners. But it’s a good sign to see the pitch being lively purely because our batsmen are willing to take up that challenge again and the bowlers are also looking forward to doing the same job they did in Cape Town. We are still to talk about the different combinations that we can go in with. Again, it’s about finding the right balance.”

Well, indeed It is high time for India to find the right balance. There has been a lot of chatter from the Indian camp, especially from head-coach Ravi Shastri, regarding the potential of this side. Now is time to put the words into action as they have a reputation to protect, starting from this Test match in Centurion.

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