Contrasting Tales of KL Rahul and Umesh Yadav hit India’s quest for a perfect squad for Australia
The first hour of the second day of the second Test in Hyderabad has possibly solved one conundrum and complicated the other. Umesh Yadav’s six-fer, the first for an Indian pace bowler in 19 years has probably sealed one of the remaining spots for the fast bowlers in the Indian squad for Australia. On the other hand, yet another early dismissal for KL Rahul has complicated the opening slot conundrum.
Before this series began, one looked at the upcoming Indian squad for the all-important Australian tour as there were a couple of things that were still uncertain regarding the composition of the squad.
The first issue to be settled was at the top of the order itself. The England series had emphatically settled the issue, at least in the eyes of the selectors, that neither of the first choice openers till then, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, had either the technique or the requisite temperament to succeed in overseas conditions. Age too was not on their side as well.
The third opener in the squad, KL Rahul, possibly saved his place through a scintillating century albeit in a dead rubber fifth Test and in a losing cause, after a string of low scores. It seemed that he was at the top of the ladder when it comes to the opening slot for the Australian tour.
When the selectors chose Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal for the two-match Test series against the West Indies, it seemed the race was between Shaw and Agarwal for the second opener’s slot. Even after Rahul’s failure in the first Test, the team management showed immense faith in his ability to come good. India’s bowling coach, Bharat Arun even spoke to the press before the second Test about how Rahul was a long-term investment and the future of Indian cricket.
It’s possible that the Indian think-tank decided to leave out Mayank Agarwal from the playing XI of the Hyderabad Test just so, that Rahul does not feel insecure about his place. It’s good to give a long rope to a player who is considered to be too good to fail for too long. But how much longer can that rope be? Rahul has failed again in the second Test. It’s not just the failure, but the predictable manner of it – getting bowled, that begs the question – does Rahul have the technique to succeed at the top in Test match cricket? Or, is he even in the right space of mind?
For the eleventh time in the last thirteen innings, he is out bowled or lbw. That is a serious issue for any top order batsman. And it’s not as if he is getting out in a similar fashion after scoring decent amount runs. Barring a couple of high scores, he has got out very early in the innings, leaving the middle order exposed to the new ball.
It seems through his good showing in both the Tests, Prithvi Shaw has cemented his place at the top of the order for the Australian tour. But the conundrum of who his partner at the top of the order has now been further complicated.
By not selecting Mayank Agarwal, at least in the number 3 position, along with Shaw and Rahul, the team management now runs the risk of either playing Agarwal in the XI, who, thanks to the lack of foresight on the part of the Indian think tank, would have to play in Australia without having any experience of Test cricket. On the contrary, if they decide to show faith in Rahul’s ability and select him in the playing XI despite his repeated failures and technical shortcomings, it will send a very wrong signal to other aspiring openers, to nobody more so than Mayank himself.
The other issue that needed to be settled for the composition of the Indian squad for the Australian tour was regarding who the pace bowlers would be. Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami seemed to be the four automatic selections. But for a long Australian tour, the team needs to have at least six pace bowlers in the squad. So, who would those two reserve bowlers be?
Umesh Yadav seems to have done enough by taking six wickets in the first innings in the Hyderabad Test. When Shardul Thakur got injured in his second over itself, Umesh was left as the only seamer in the bowling attack. Though he started a bit wayward in the beginning, in subsequent spells, he bowled good lines and at a fast pace. He was duly rewarded with six wickets, including that of the centurion Roston Chase. Thanks to his good showing in this Test, he is almost certain to make it to the Australian squad.
However, the search for the sixth pace bowler continues. Now, they will probably have to select their sixth seamer on the basis of performances in India A's tour to New Zealand.