India v/s SA: Does Kohli know his best XI?

Virat Kohli and the Indian team management will have to take certain stern decisions when they pick the team for the Test matches against South Africa. Here are some selection headaches for the skipper.

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It has been almost two years that the Indian cricket fans haven’t witnessed red ball action. The last time the men in blue turned out in whites at home, was at the Wankhede Stadium on November 14, 2013 for Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test against West Indies. The batting maestro had swayed the country with an emotional speech post match, and come Thursday there will be no dearth of emotions amongst the Proteas and their counterparts, when they kick start the last phase of an exciting tour.

Virat Kohli had disdainfully ticked off all boxes in Sri Lanka after taking over the Test captaincy from MS Dhoni. However, the biggest assessment of his leadership skills will be the four-match series, simply because the Proteas are the number 1 side in the world and on current form and experience, they are better than the Lankans.

The aggressive Indian captain, who doesn’t fear losing a Test while trying to win it, has his own share of problems. With most of the batsmen and bowlers firing in unison at the Emerald Island, Kohli has to decide whom to stick with and whom to leave out. Some of the imminent team selection headaches which the stylish Delhi lad has to deal with are:-

Whether or not to stick the ‘five bowler policy’

Kohli has been very vocal about the need of taking 20 wickets in a Test match and his ‘five bowler policy’ worked wonders in Sri Lanka where they managed to get all sixty wickets in three Tests. But when a team is up against the Steyns, Morkels, Philanders and Tahirs, a thought of playing seven batsmen might just come across the mind of the skipper.

The 1st Test is at Mohali, where the 22 yards generally favour the speedsters more than it does anywhere else in the country and that would be the perfect setting for the visitors to get a decisive edge in the series. However, this time around the pitch may assist spinners. Considering Kohli’s attitude of walking the talk, it is more likely that he would go in with four genuine bowlers and an all-rounder, but a negative result in the first Test might force him to tinker with the combination.

Too many openers to deal with

If there has ever been a drastic situation of ‘problem of plenty’ for an Indian captain, then this is it. Four openers vying for two spots and the selection drama can’t get any more exciting.

Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan were primed to be India’s innings starters but the Australia and Sri Lanka tour has given birth to another talented youngster in Lokesh Rahul, who has already reached the ‘three figure mark’ twice in his five-match old career in whites.

Adding to the complexities, Cheteshwar Pujara, who was thought to be a middle order bat, showed his skills of negotiating the red cherry from ball one in the Lankan capital. He not only scored a technically sound century in the deciding Test but also marked his return to the national team by carrying his bat through the innings.

Rahul, playing for Board President’s XI was mighty impressive against the Proteas in the warm up game at Mumbai. Whereas, Vijay has struggled with his fitness off late and Dhawan has endured a bad patch in the recent ODI’s against South Africa. But the Karnataka youngster is most likely to miss out on a first XI berth due to his inexperience and Pujara might have to fight for a place in the middle order again.

Rohit’s brilliance or Pujara’s patience

It is not often that a batsman finds himself in an insecure position after scoring a series-winning hundred, but due to Rohit Sharma’s presence in the team, that is exactly what has been happening to Pujara.

Rohit was the primary reason for Pujara not getting a chance in the national team for so long. The Mumbaikar was even tried in the no. 3 slot as the Indian management felt that they needed someone upfront who could change the complexion of the match by going after the bowling. However, that didn’t work and Ajinkya Rahane was asked to do a Rahul Dravid with Rohit being pushed down to no. 5.

In case the hosts go in with six batsmen including wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, either one of Rohit or Pujara has to warm the benches. What may tilt the balance in Rohit’s favour is his superfluous form in the recently concluded limited overs’ series. Having said that, Test cricket is all about patience and Pujara has loads of it in him.

Jadeja or Binny or both

Ravindra Jadeja’s phoenix-like rise after getting dropped from the Indian team was fuelled by the 38 wickets he captured in four matches while playing for Saurashtra in the current Ranji season.

However, figures might not reveal the fact that 37 of those scalps came in the first three games played on spin-friendly Rajkot wickets while the left-hander managed to bag just a single wicket when his team met Services at Delhi. This is the reason why Stuart Binny might retain his place in the team for the 1st match at Mohali, where his military medium pace would get the backing of the fast nature of the pitch.

With Ravichandran Ashwin’s and Amit Mishra’s place in the team all but secured, Jadeja might have to wait for the turning tracks on offer at Bengaluru and Delhi, later in the series. India might also choose to go in with three spinners and ask Binny to share the new ball with Ishant Sharma, who will play at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium after serving a one-match ban.

A toss between two errant bowlers

Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have something in them which a lot of Indian speedsters don’t possess that is raw pace. These men can constantly hit the 140 kmph mark, but as the saying goes ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, the major task for them would be to maintain the line and length without giving up on pace, a thing which the duo hasn’t been able to do on a consistent basis.

Incidentally Aaron was preferred over Umesh in the first Test in Sri Lanka which India lost and then the latter played the remaining two games. With Ishant ruled out of the Mohali Test, both the pacers might find themselves in the team, however when the lanky pacer from Delhi returns, it will be a toss up between Umesh and Aaron judging on their respective performances in the first Test.


About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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