The Rohit Sharma inclusion into the Indian team for the just concluded 3rd test between West Indies and India took every sane follower by surprise. For the record, India won the test with an outstanding bowling performance in last two days where they took 19 West Indian wickets within 1oo overs, spread over two innings. They did it after Day three was lost to rain and West Indies started Day four with a comfortable 107/1 still early in their first innings. India won and very likely Rohit Sharma will keep his batting position.
Much has been discussed about his inclusion so I will spare you the rant and concentrate on how it might have effected two individual players and the entire team selection – desperate to include a star player from Mumbai whose overseas test average hovers around the twenties.
1. Murali Vijay – From best opener to no place amongst top five batsman
Vijay has been India’s most successful opener since Veeru Sehwag hay days. At start of the series he was our leading opener and part of our top five batsmen but got injured after first test. Backup opener KL Rahul played the second test at Kingston, in Vijay’s place, grabbed the opportunity and scored a big hundred, putting himself up also as sixth batsman in the pecking order.
Based on form it was expected KL Rahul would stay, Vijay would come back to the team replacing Cheteshwar Pujara and that would mean Pujara now becomes the sixth batsman in the squad and Rohit Sharma the seventh.
But by dropping both Vijay and Pujara, the message seems to be that Vijay is now only our backup opener and not necessarily in top six batsman. How he fell down so rapidly in the pecking order after two tests (one of which he didn’t play), will disturb him.
2. Does Pujara have a future in Indian cricket?
Pujara now knows he does not necessarily belong in top six preferred batsmen and his alternate role is of second backup opener. He plays only one format of the game – test cricket. His motivation will be really tested here, with future so much uncertain.
India have long home season coming up, where in flatter pitches one would expect a Rohit to get more chances than Pujara. India are likely to play only five batsmen at home and Pujara already has Vijay ahead of him in pecking order, or so it seems.
3. Willing to unsettle batting order
Rohit is not best suited to play at number three in the batting order, it seems. He can only be accommodated to play number five. Maybe he is a specialist number five.
To accommodate the man who Virat Kohli believed can change match within a session, the skipper sacrificed his and Ajinkya Rahane’s batting position. The two best batsmen of our lineup changed their batting positions. Then met with failures. Virat, aiming to be the best test batsman in the world, failed both innings; Rahane failed in first innings but came back to score a masterly and quick 78 not out in second essay.
Rohit got scores of 9 and 41, enough to keep in him the team for next test. Pujara got dropped for scores of 16 and 46 – admittedly scored at strike rate of 25 runs per hundred balls that may have led to his drop. Rohit now cannot be dropped for fourth and last test as that would throw further confusion who is being selected and for what.
Besides, I won’t blame if you find experts writing how comfortable, middling the ball and classy Rohit was looking as long as he was in the crease etc
4. Scapegoats for Kingston draw
By dropping Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra and Cheteshwar Pujara, the team management indirectly blamed the above three for inability to win the second test, at Kingston. Specially Virat’s words on Rohit’s ‘game changing’ ability gives an indirect dig at Pujara’s slow batting strike rate. Test cricket I was told is all about grit determination and not giving your wicket. The Kohli-Kumble team management maybe changing all those theories.
For the record Amit Mishra scored 53 and 21 in both test innings’ and took 6 wickets in total. Yadav took 5 wickets in the first test and went wicket less in the second test.
It maybe worthwhile to note, the young Caribbean middle order played out of their skins to draw the second test respectfully. It took number 5,6,7,8 to score fifties (has happened just four times before in test cricket) to get that result. The bowlers put on their best show but lost to a better opponent.
5. Willing to unsettle bowling order
There is little sense why Umesh Yadav was dropped for third test on a pitch which assisted bowlers willing to bend their backs. Perhaps with the absence of Pujara’s & Vijay’s solidity and unsure how solid Rohit will be, the team management thought it wiser to shore up the batting order below.
So out went Mishra and Yadav and in came bowlers with better batting abilities – Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Bhuvneshwar Kumar grabbed the opportunity and his six wickets was one of the driving factors behind the win. But that should shade the reason why the two bowlers with better batting abilities was picked.
India now cannot afford to drop Rohit Sharma again and increase the confusion – rather make it game of inky-pinky-ponky between the players, before every test! So here’s hoping Rohit gets a big knock, his backers go over the moon, and some stability creeps in the team selection.
Meanwhile Pujara, Vijay, Mishra and Yadav need to improve their batting and boundary hitting skills till then!