Australia vs India 2018-19: What are the answers to India's questions?
India's ongoing series against the Windies was meant for largely answering the questions that needed answering before the blockbuster tour of Australia. India haven't won a test Down Under in 10 years and two tours. Considering the quality of cricket on offer, these questions don't quite seem to have been answered. Finishing a Test inside three days is not really a valid parameter for judgement, which leaves the remaining Test match to judge a possible 15 members to play in arguably the most hostile conditions cricket has to offer.
An 'A' tour is scheduled against New Zealand 'A' which should have some of India's top-order gunning it out prior to the first Test in Adelaide. But certain questions need to be answered, which exist right through every position in the team.
The biggest question that persists with regards to this team is at the top of the order. Five openers are in the fray. It may seem to be a problem of plenty, but it isn't. What has to be seen is whether selectors go with experience or current form. Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul come in based on prior experience, but none of them are in-form. Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw could come in based on current form.
But, on the experience front, Agarwal has yet to play in a Test and Shaw has two under his belt. Instinctively, India may have to play one in-form and one experienced opener in the XI. Vijay's pair at Lord's seems to have caused a major dent to his chances for Australia, even though he was India's best batsman in the previous tour bar Virat Kohli.
Shikhar Dhawan could find himself in the mix despite modest returns in the previous tour, as the left and right combination will always be advantageous tactically. Rohit Sharma could be somewhat of a dark horse for the opening spot based on his exploits in white-ball cricket in Australia, but may yet find himself in the squad anyway as part of the middle order.
Virat Kohli at 4 and Cheteshwar Pujara at 3 will most likely be the combination that India will go for. Numbers 5, 6 and 7 are another cauldron of confusion. Ajinkya Rahane should be in at 5, but an average which has plummeted by nearly 10 runs per innings over the course of this year is a major cause for concern, even though he too had a mainly fruitful tour Down Under the last time.
The number 6 position has mainly been occupied by the wicketkeeper-batsman, as Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant have done so either side of Hanuma Vihari's lone Test. But coming into Australia, a full-fledged batsman should be taking this spot, which is where Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari could find themselves in with a chance.
Karun Nair, despite all the treatment (or a lack of it), meted out to him by the management, may also be considered. A top-6 completely dedicated to wielding the willow should be the way to go.
Wicketkeepers and All-Rounders
The 'keeping department, one which has been in a state of flux for a good 15 months, is currently without a Head of Department (HoD). Three associates, Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel and Rishabh Pant have taken the reins, during tours to South Africa and England. Of these, Pant looks to be in with the most chance to board the plane to Australia based on his batting exploits, something which almost trumps actual wicketkeeping ability in the modern game.
Of course, a lot of the questions which have dogged the 'keeper's position would go away if there was any news of Wriddhiman Saha, India's proverbial wicketkeeping HoD, and India's best bet behind the stumps. But the mismanagement regarding his injuries have led to complete radio silence over the past month, prior to which it was reported that Saha would take around 3-4 months to recover.
The all-rounder's spot(s) seems to have some competition. Prior to the England series, R Ashwin and Hardik Pandya were India's likely all-rounders. But with Ravindra Jadeja's mini-renaissance, and Pandya's horror-inducing back injury, within the course of the last month has propelled Jadeja to the top of the standings. But considering Australian pitches' tryst with spinners, it is unlikely that India will go in with more than one spinner in the playing XI apart from Sydney and Adelaide.
Post the England tour, India's bowlers were the toast of the town, which is why the bowling department looks the most settled of all. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma all have been performing well, though one of them may miss out if India wish to accommodate the third spinner in the squad. Kuldeep Yadav should be the third spinner in the squad if the selectors think of an extra spinner. But, considering the kind of belters Adelaide and Brisbane normally are, the spinner's role would simply be of containing, and one of Ashwin or Jadeja seems more likely to don that role.
Australia, like India, also have the same questions to answer, hence the new look squad for the series against Pakistan. Tim Paine as captain, Aaron Finch in the opening slot, Travis Head at 5, Michael Neser and Brendan Doggett amongst the bowlers (though Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins should come in by then) and two vice-captains are representative of the changes in Australian cricket.
But, an important point to be noted is that the players who do well in the ongoing series against Pakistan, will be coming in with a lot more confidence than the Indian players because of the fact that they'll be coming back to familiar territory after playing on surfaces they find the toughest and playing against opponents who thrive on those surfaces, while it will be the complete opposite for the Indians. But the stakes, as they always are, will be high come Christmas season.Modified 20 Dec 2019, 19:14 IST