Ajinkya Rahane is a quiet man.
He lets his bat do the talking and how his willow has conversed with the game and the fans over the past two years.
Ajinkya Rahane is a team-man.
He is in the Rahul Dravid mould.
Dropped in Bangladesh for not being suited to the ODI format and having a slower strike rate than his contemporaries, the Mumbaikar is now the stand-in skipper for the upcoming Zimbabwe tour in the absence of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
Rahane—refreshingly—has no pretensions about his new role.
“The decision of naming me captain did come as a surprise because I wasn’t thinking about captaincy ever. I didn’t know how to react when I heard the news.
Once the news slowly began to sink in, I became really confident of handling this new responsibility.”
“Firstly, playing under MS Dhoni I would observe how he would be calm on the field. He has a very peculiar and calm way of handling situations. I would like to take that quality from him.
What I would like to take from Virat Kohli would be controlled aggression. You can see that quality in his batting and his captaincy.
And finally, Rahul bhai is someone who likes to keep things really simple on the field, which I got to know while playing under him with the Rajasthan Royals.
Having said that, I have my own set of ideas and I know what I have to do on the field.”
This is the first series for Team India since the re-framing of the ODI rules.
The changes are as follows:
The obvious effect is to reduce team totals. 400+ scores may once again become a thing of the past.
A return to a more traditional format implies that batsmen should eschew risk-taking and play to their strengths. Technique would be of paramount importance again. Spinners, of course, benefit with the extra fielder in the deep in the slog overs. Captains can be either offensive or defensive in the first 10 overs.
Murali Vijay, too, gets a chance to buttress his ODI credentials.
And the likes of Robin Uthappa and Kedar Jadhav can stake their claims to the wicketkeeper’s slot should Dhoni decide to quit sooner than later.
I suspect that it is this game of musical chairs that is of more salient interest to the selectors and the Indian think tank.
Other stories to follow are whether Manish Pandey, Ambati Rayudu or Manoj Tiwary can make a lasting impression. Opportunities to be in the full XI are few and far between.
Despite the absence of the main stalwarts, the squad is not a young lot with Harbhajan Singh leading the spinning trio.
Cheteshwar Pujara is missing from the above. He leads the India A side at home against Australia A.
Now Rahane, Vijay and Pujara may consider themselves hard-done by that they are not first choices whenever the ODI squad is chosen. They are labelled ‘Test specialists‘.
But , to be frank, is that really an injustice to the troika? Is it not an indicator of the selectors’ faith in them that despite the relatively fewer opportunities given them, they are penciled in ahead of the glory boys when it comes to the guts-and-gore version of the sport?
Being a Test player is the pinnacle of achievement. For Rahane, Vijay and Pujara to be considered head-and-shoulders above their counterparts should be a matter of pride and not despondency.
Class always tells.
The carcass that is Indian cricket is laid out on the coroner’s slab. The post-mortem begins afresh.
It all seems to be an exercise in futility.
Every serious Indian cricket lover, ex-cricketer, administrator or even current cricketer knows what ails Indian cricket. But not one wants to make a concrete effort to alter the status quo.
The ‘chalta hai’ attitude comes to the fore.
“All this will change when we play in India on our dust-bowls” is the constant refrain.
And that is how it has panned out. The die-hard fans are consoled by wins eked out at home in conditions that suit flat-track bullies.
And the sponsors are happy all over again and our cricketers are worshiped as demigods once more.
It is a combination of several factors.
There exists a paucity of quality fast bowlers to take advantage of conditions abroad because Indian pitches do not encourage them. They prefer to be medium fast rather than bowl their hearts out with little reward.
Except for Mohali, there are very few pitches that offer the fast bowler any help. It is time that the BCCI drew up a plan to create sporting pitches that will dot all the Test venues in India. It should be a mandate dictated from the top.
Imran Khan wished his team to win abroad and at home in all conditions. He institutionalized a culture of encouraging raw pace as well as facilitated pacy wickets on the north-west Indian sub-continent.
There are no excuse for saying that it cannot be done. Look due north to our ‘Pathan’ neighbours for inspiration.
Fast, bouncy wickets at home would also make sure that our batters adapt quickly to English, Australian or South African ones.
Secondly, the Indian team selection especially for overseas tours has to be such that core players are constantly challenged by the fringe ones. No one should be allowed to rest on their laurels. A place in the side has to be constantly earned. There should be no passengers in the chosen 16.
Fast bowlers should be groomed and rotated so that they do not succumb to injuries.
Additionally, certain batsmen and bowlers with special or limited skills should be set aside for a specific format. You would expect a Ravindra Jadeja or a Stuart Binny to be a useful asset in one-dayers or T-20s. But expecting them to play stellar roles in Tests is wishful thinking. Similarly, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma are well-suited for Test cricket only.
A system that rewards format specialists is the need of the hour. The BCCI could look into that.
Yes, the Indian team would do better if they had all-rounders in the side. But the unfortunate truth is there is none of the calibre of a Kapil Dev or even a Manoj Prabhakar. The cupboard is bare.
The Indian Test team is thus better off with six front-line batsmen and five strike bowlers.
The series in Australia will show if the lessons learned from the unmitigated disaster in England have been absorbed.
If not, the Indian cricket fan can expect his cup of woe to overflow. Certainly not a good augury for the World Cup to follow!
Team India conceded the initiative and the series lead once again. The Indian team capitulated in three days at Old Trafford. It could have been all over sooner if it was not for the twelfth man for the Indian side—the rain.
The signs were ominous from the start. Pankaj Singh retained the confidence of his skipper and his place in the side.
Varun Aaron came in at the expense of Mohammad Shami. I truly feel for the UP bowler; he has been bowled into the ground since his début and is not the bowler he was at the start of his exciting career.
Aaron did enough to justify his place in the side. The inclusion of Ishwar Pandey could have made things even more interesting. I would rather have an express bowler in the side than a medium pacer on these pacy wickets especially when the journeyman is not a Zaheer Khan, that is, he lacks variety.
But the real story was that our much-vaunted batting line-up failed once more; the senior bats were made to look like novices against the moving ball.
The attitude of the new batting stars should undergo a sea change. Instead of muttering that things will be different when the English come to India—it was not, they beat us 2-1—it might be better that Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli consider a stint in county cricket to build their technique in overcast, murky conditions. The question is how and when? Will their IPL and Team India commitments allow them to do so? Or are these fancies to be indulged in only by players on the fringe of national selection?
Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan failed to deliver when it mattered. It is time that the selectors selected in-form batsmen for crucial overseas tours and not hope that they strike form on tour—a strategy fraught with obvious dangers.
Dhoni can gamble and have Naman Ojha or Rohit Sharma open the batting. I would go with the latter.
There appears to be no option but to persist with Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli and hope that their twin failures galvanise them to improve their performances and live up to the reputations of their predecessors—Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.
Ravindra Jadeja is another perennial favourite with his skipper. It is time he sat out.
Why does one have a sneaky feeling that the Indian skipper prefers either his Chennai Superkings teammates or players from the North?
Ishant Sharma makes his return to the side conditional on a full recovery from his ankle injury.
Pankaj Singh—at last—made the record books claiming two wickets in his second game. He is more suited for the shorter format of the game where containment is the name of the game.
My team choice for the Kensington Oval:
It was the same old story all over again. Ishant Sharma, the hero of the Lords test, looked on dejectedly, while his teammates squandered all his hard work and repaid him with a Sisyphean task for the final Test—if it comes to that.
Sharma injured his ankle and will be sitting out the fourth Test as well.
His replacement, Pankaj Singh, proved to be an inadequate replacement. His time is past though he is a game trier. A few chances of this bowling went a begging but if Dhoni was brave and honest with himself, he would have admitted that Varun Aaron or Ishwar Pandey were better bets. You do not replace your main strike bowler with a medium-pace trundler.
Rohit Sharma’s entry into the squad in place of Stuart Binny upset the balance of the squad. Just four main bowlers and two-three part-time spinners is hardly the recipe for a side looking to seal the series.
The Indian skipper does not have a lot of trust in his top order and preferred to either go in with an extra batsman or a couple of all-rounders. This decision seemed sound in the first two tests in retrospect; it was the lower order that saved the team blushes in the first three innings.
It is time MS Dhoni had a hard look at his resources and what he’s trying to do with them.
Gambhir has the gumption and the patience to play long innings. Bring to mind his effort at Napier, New Zealand in 2009.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli stay. Class will tell.
Rohit Sharma goes out. The talented Mumbaikar has even his most ardent fans tearing their hair out in frustration; I am but one amongst them. Duncan Fletcher should have a quiet word with the young man and tell him that if this continues he will be touring a lot more—with the India ‘A’ side.
Dhoni continues and should back himself to the hilt about being aggressive with the bat.
At the start of the series, Dhoni said:
“I’ve realised that I have to be far more aggressive in my batting because I play much better that way than when I try to play like a proper batsman. It’s important to back your instincts and not think too much about the situation. I shouldn’t look to bat out time because there are other batsmen who can do that. If the ball is in my slot – whether it’s the first or the last – I should go for it.”
They were not the most heralded of the Indian bats when the series began. But they have quietly become the mainstays of the line-up.
Ravindra Jadeja, bat and moustache twirled, sits out. Ravichandra Ashwin comes in.
(How the selectors could overlook Amit Mishra and Praghyan Ojha for such an important series is anybody’s guess. Among the back-ups, are two wicket-keepers who may probably never get a game. It is effectively a 15-member squad.)
Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey lend much-needed support to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.
My side for Old Trafford:
Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, B Kumar, M Shami, V Aaron and I Pandey.