India face selection headache for Boxing Day Test

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Focused: Indian opening batsman KL Rahul bats during a practice session at SuperSport Park. — BCCI Twitter
Focused: Indian opening batsman KL Rahul bats during a practice session at SuperSport Park. — BCCI Twitter

Dubai - While KL Rahul will partner Mayank Agarwal at the top order, question marks remain over middle-order slots for India


James Jose

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Published: Mon 20 Dec 2021, 11:15 PM

The honeymoon is over and now comes the real thing. After a successful start to life against New Zealand, the Virat Kohli-Rahul Dravid era takes its next step and faces one of the biggest challenges in its fledging journey. Dravid’s initiation into senior management was seamless with the former Indian skipper plotting India’s win over the World Test champions New Zealand in Mumbai. And while it was at home what lays ahead is Dravid’s first big test overseas.

Over the next fortnight or so, he and his enigmatic captain Kohli will look to conquer South Africa and, in the process, set their abysmal record right. India’s head to head record against South Africa in South Africa between 1992 to 2018, doesn’t make for great reading with them winning only three Tests of the 20, with 10 won by South Africa and seven ending in draws. But, overall, they have fared much better with India winning 14 of the 39 Tests played between the two nations, with South Africa winning 15 and 10 finishing in stalemates.

Nonetheless, Kohli and his brave, young side take pride in doing well overseas with the team having done exceedingly well in England and Australia — the series against the latter now part of folklore. So, it is more than with an air of expectation that India go into the series against the South Africans at Centurion, Johannesburg and Cape Town. And perhaps the biggest inspiration India can draw on is from a man in their very own dressing room, the man whom they call ‘The Wall’ — Dravid.

Dravid’s record overseas and the runs he has scored in India’s overseas wins has no comparison, not even from the batting stalwart Sachin Tendulkar.

So, there is a cause for optimism going into this three-match series and a new chapter could be written by mid-January. And for that to happen, the team balance is of paramount importance. And going into the Boxing Day Test at Centurion, India are faced with a selection headache on who will stride onto the park at SuperSport Park.

Kohli is a big believer in a five-man bowling attack and has always maintained that you need a bowling attack, especially overseas, that can take 20 wickets. But with the conditions they are expected to encounter, India might be pondering going in with an extra batter, or an all-rounder. Shreyas Iyer, who made a sensational Test debut against the Kiwis, reported after centre wicket pratice at SuperSport Park that there is grass on the wicket and reckoned there will be a generous amount of bounce.

With Rohit Sharma, the new Test vice-captain ruled out, the Karnataka lads KL Rahul, the interim vice-captain and Mayank Agarwal will open the innings, with Cheteshwar Pujara likely to slot in one-down followed by skipper Kohli. It is after that, that things are not as straightforward as they seem. Iyer has made more than a strong case for himself for the No.5 slot with scores of 105 and 65 on debut. But there is also the case of Hanuma Vihari, who has played 11 of his 12 Tests away from home. Vihari, having been left out of the squad for the series against New Zealand, was sent with the India ‘A’ squad to prepare him for the South African series.

And the 28-year-old has shown he is primed and ready to be back in the bullring following handsome scores of 54, 72 not out and 63 against South Africa ‘A.’ And then there is Ajinkya Rahane, India’s vice-captain until not so long ago, but who has been woefully out of form.

Who among them will the team management punt on? Will they go in with the extra specialist batter or draft in Shardul Thakur who can bowl and bat, along with the rest of the bowling attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and R Ashwin?

These are intriguing puzzles that need to be solved and one wouldn’t want to be in the team management’s shoes.

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