When you lose eight consecutive overseas Tests after beginning the season as the No.1-ranked side in the world, it’s time to take some tough decisions. To a large extent, India’s selectors have been spared that. First, Rahul Dravid retired. And now, on the eve of a new season, VVS Laxman has followed suit. The changes that may have been contemplated are now upon us by default.
I’m not for a second saying that Dravid and Laxman would have been dropped. National caps should not be handed out so easily, and Virat Kohli aside, no one from the younger generation has made a convincing case to be an integral part of the line-up. Kohli is a cut above the rest and his performances in international cricket so far mean that we can’t compare him with any of the others.
Suresh Raina and S Badrinath both have experience of the big time. Raina has had his issues, especially against the short ball, while Dale Steyn roughed up Badrinath in his debut series.
After the poor tour he had in England, Raina would probably not have expected to return so soon. Now that he has a chance, he should make the most of it. He can work on his problems against the short ball, as Steve Waugh did early on in his career. And it will help that he comes into this series with the confidence from the runs he made in the limited-overs games in Sri Lanka.
A few months ago, most of us would have said that Rohit Sharma would be the ideal middle-order replacement. But in recent times, he has shown neither form nor confidence. No matter how much ability you have, you need to perform to play at this level.
Of those I’ve watched, I’d say that Ajinkya Rahane is the best equipped in a technical sense. I’d be tempted to play him at No.3, with Sachin Tendulkar and Kohli to follow. Cheteshwar Pujara is the other contender for that spot.
Badrinath deserves his chance, but like Manoj Tiwary, he will have to bide his time. He has been incredibly consistent in domestic cricket for a long time, but others like Kohli have made better use of the opportunities they’ve been given. Tiwary has impressed on his rare outings, but he too must stay patient and make runs in domestic cricket to break into the side.
On the bowling front, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zaheer Khan plays all ten Tests this home season. Umesh Yadav should be his understudy, given how impressively he bowled at times in Australia. Ishant Sharma has questions to answer in Test cricket and is just returning from surgery, but I can’t see him playing in any case.
I think India will go in with two seamers and two spinners. Pragyan Ojha offers great quality, but I’m surprised that Harbhajan Singh has been selected only for the Twenty20 squad. After you’ve picked up 406 wickets in 98 Tests, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re sent back to domestic cricket to prove yourself. Maybe you can do that for a month or three, but he has been out of the fray for too long now.
Even if R Ashwin is the first-choice offspinner at the moment, I don’t see why you can’t play two. The intention should always be to field your best XI. If that includes two offies, so be it. We’ve done it before, in the days when Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Erapalli Prasanna played together.
On the whole, the bowling doesn’t worry me much. After New Zealand, we have England visiting, and on slow, low pitches, I don’t think you need to worry about a team that will be missing Kevin Pietersen. Over the next year, it’s the batting that we’ll have to watch closely. Legends have moved on, and the new faces will be only too aware that there are reputations to be made.