While India has played most of its recent Tests under difficult conditions both domestically and abroad, the middle order was the biggest cause for concern.

Published: December 02, 2021 11:46 PM |

Last updated: December 02, 2021 11:46 PM

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The Indian skipper Virat Kohli during a T20 World Championship game against Pakistan in Dubai. (Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: In the first half of his tenure as captain, Virat Kohli was ruthless in choosing the XI. Especially when it came to choosing between two clubs, current form was more important than past performance.

While it didn’t matter in the home tests, overseas history was different. The carousel meant that the hit order was never a fixed unit. As a lack of security put pressure, this ultimately turned out to be her biggest undoing during the 2018 tours of South Africa and England.

As Kohli grew into his role as skipper, the chop and change policy was discarded. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane – two thugs who missed important away tests – have since received the support they deserve. Conversations about strike rates and inconsistencies disappeared when India saw a glorious run in the first Test World Cup, which ended in a loss in the final to New Zealand. It is crucial that Kohli mentioned here for the first time the need to enter the transition phase with a view to the future.

When Kohli returns to international cricket after a short break, the test series of two games against New Zealand is pending and he has to answer a big call immediately. Who will make room for Kohli at Wankhede on Friday? It is the question that has attracted more interest than the test itself. Although India has run most of its recent tests in difficult conditions both domestically and abroad, the middle order was the biggest cause for concern. Pujara hasn’t hit a century in 35 months, Rahane misses 21 innings and Kohli – the only all-format player in the trio – doesn’t have an international century in two years. And you don’t need an expert telling you which place is safe.

To be fair to Pujara and Rahane, they have scored important, important runs whenever the team needed it most. You have arrived in Australia, at home and in England. But there is still a lack of consistency. On a team whose philosophy is based on the Batters taking more responsibility so that they can play five bowlers, Pujara and Rahane have the long rope only because the results have shown India’s way. After costing the WTC final, India even considered dropping one of them for the England series and playing against Hanuma Vihari instead. In English conditions, however, the team leaders at the time preferred to support the duo, believing that their experience would be required.

The difficult decision of whether to drop them or not now rests with the new team leader. Planning a hard tour of South Africa is not easy. India has already identified Shubman Gill and Shreyas as their medium-sized options for the future and prefers to give them ample opportunity at home before exposing them abroad. That would allow for a seamless transition as it will only further strengthen the team. Therefore, the New Zealand series was important not only for Pujara and Rahane, but also for India. If the two had shown even one form of form in Kanpur, India might still have stayed with the duo and would have given them certainties for South Africa as well.

Instead, Shreyas is now forcing India to rush the decision. India still prefers some experience in the middle range next to Kohli, as two inexperienced thugs in 3rd place & 5 would be too much to ask under South African conditions. Gill, Shreyas and Rishabh Pant would form the middle class on their maiden tour to the Rainbow Nation with Kohli in 4th place. After South Africa, India’s remaining WTC contracts against Sri Lanka and Australia are at home, followed by one in Bangladesh. This series would be the ideal time to transition which means India will likely only give Pujara and Rahane a chance, with one of them being banked for Mumbai.

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