With a captain battling an existential crisis, a veteran pacer who is being phased out and a white-ball maverick trying to earn his red-ball streaks, Ajinkya Rahane’s second-rounder India’s goal is to shape up a gritty New Zealand as a formidable combination. Test is starting from Thursday. Rahane, with his career on the line, could have one last time to lead India, while 100-Test veteran Ishant Sharma will be praying that young turk Mohammad Siraj doesn’t oust him. Shreyas Iyer is set for Test debut and would like to reaffirm the ‘Bombay (not Mumbai) school of batsmanship’ whose philosophy goes beyond the white-ball riches of the Indian Premier League.
Captain Rahane confirmed before the match, “Shreyas Iyer is making his debut, but I can’t tell anything about the combination.”
It is indeed rare to find an Indian Test team without the hit opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul. Captain Virat Kohli and a genuine match-winning keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant are also missing from the line-up.
But it gives head coach Rahul Dravid an opportunity to see what his back-up bench strength is before the tour of South Africa begins in less than a month.
Only Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal have played more than 10 Tests in the batting order for the first Test. If Agarwal does well, he will keep KL Rahul on his toes and a decent performance from Shubman Gill will keep the team management interested in keeping the middle order when the two regular openers come back.
In any game, the leader of the side is considered a safe place in the side, but in this Indian team the captain will bat to save his career after averaging 19 in 11 Test matches in the current season.
Two more failures in two home matches could mean the end of the road for Rahane. Even Dravid will find it difficult to justify the inclusion of the Mumbaikar on a flight to Johannesburg next month.
One look at Rahane’s net session doesn’t inspire much confidence. He tried to hawk Jayant Yadav on the off break and was clean bowled. The famous Krishna inspired an outer edge that would have held the regulation.
But it was scary to see net bowler Shivam Mavi bowling a perfect bouncer and hitting him in the chest. It’s not easy to lead a team when your own batting form has let you down.
How Rahane strikes a balance between being a ruthless captain in this Test as well as the batsman his team expects will decide which direction his career goes from here.
If he plays the game of survival against Tim Southee or bumper-happy Neil Wagner, it could lead to a collapse, but as Pujara put it, “being a little fearless” saves him from the enormous pressure on his shoulders. There will be some relief. Livelihood.
Similarly, for Ishant, the senior-most player in the current set-up with over 100 games and over 300 wickets, the situation is turning bleak by the day. He did not look in good form during the net session and if Siraj is dropped from the eleven, the lanky pacer will have to prove once again that the team management’s decision is not a mockery.
Umesh Yadav, however, remains the first choice for the new ball. Shreyas, who has a decent red-ball record but hasn’t played a longer format game since 2019, will have his task cut-out.
Dravid interacted with him to emulate Neil Wagner’s round-the-wicket strategy on short ball throw-downs from left-arm specialist Nuwan.
A solid start with an aggressive mindset could give them a shot at a permanent middle-order spot in the future. If the signals from the nets are considered, then the order of the batsmen seems to be Gill and Mayank, followed by Pujara and Rahane.
Next in line was Shreyas, who confirmed that Suriya will have to wait for his Test debut. While it is not known whether Axar Patel’s workload was being managed or not, Jayant Yadav ran a long run in the nets under Dravid’s watchful eye.
A middle order with three defensive players like Pujara, Rahane and supposedly Hanuma Vihari will not be a good proposition when India play away from home in the coming days.
But the one man to confirm his status as the world’s number one spinner will be Ravichandran Ashwin, who has been licking his wounds for the past few months following a royal humiliation by skipper Kohli during the previous series.
His battle with technician-para-excellence Williamson will be a treat for the lovers of Test cricket but veteran players like Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls will cut their task against Ashwin and Jadeja.
The third spinner is likely to be Axar Patel, who had a fine start (27 wickets) against England when he donned the whites for the last time, even though Jayant seemed to be in good rhythm.
For the Black Caps, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner will be the two pacers, with the left-arm spin duo of Ajaz Patel and Mitchell Santner as well as off-spinner William Somerville likely to complete the attack.
Team India (from): Ajinkya Rahane (Captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Siraj , Jayant Yadav, Srikar Bharat (2nd wicket) and the famous Krishna.
New Zealand (from): Kane Williamson (c), Tom Latham (wk), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (wk), Will Young, Glenn Phillips (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson, William Somerville, Ejaz Patel, Mitchell Santner and Rachin Ravindra.
The match will start at 9:30 am.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Topics mentioned in this article