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Tuesday, April 23 2024
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Nagpur gets world of good, but top-order batting failed again

Nagpur gets world of good but top order batting failed again
Photo Credit : IANS

Nagpur: India’s innings and 132-run win against World No.1 Australia in the opening Test of the four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series at Nagpur have done a world of good for its chances of clinching a berth in the World Test Championship Final.

However, the massive victory over the Aussies failed to paper over the problem areas in the Indian squad that may not have impacted the team’s performance at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium at Jamtha here, but that will surely have disastrous consequences for the team on overseas tours and against better prepared and more determined opponents at home.

The Indian team’s think tank will have to iron out these problems before the next round of selections for the third and fourth Tests against Australia but taking some drastic decisions for the second Test against Australia to be played at New Delhi from Friday (Feb 17).

Though India won the first Test and took a 1-0 lead in the series, their overall performance was not as perfect as they would have liked.

The major concern is the batting lineup, though the bowlers did well and even the pacers claimed a wicket or two. Axar Patel would have loved to have claimed more than the one wicket he has for the entire match, he made up more than enough with his superb lower-order batting that helped India beat Australia in Nagpur.

The elephant in the room, so to speak, is the failure of India’s top-order batting barring skipper Rohit Sharma, who scored a magnificent 120, starting aggressively initially but toning his aggression down later and batting in normal Test style.

But it is the meagre returns by his opening partner KL Rahul and predecessor Virat Kohli that are the issues that the Indian team management needs to solve. Rahul struggled around for 71 deliveries for 20, failing to capitalise on another opportunity. Rahul, who has scored 2624 runs in 46 Tests, last scored a hundred in South Africa at the Centurion in December 2021.

Though he managed a half-century in the next Test in Johannesburg, the 30-year-old from Bengaluru, who made his debut against Australia in Melbourne in 2014, has 8, 12, 10, 22, 23, 10, 2 and 20 in his Test innings since then.

Taking into account his struggles, former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad has questioned India chief coach Rahul Dravid’s selection policy and asked how many more chances will KL Rahul continue to get when the likes of Shubhman Gill and Sarafar Khan have staked their claims for Test spots.

“I have a lot of regard for K.L Rahul’s talent and ability, but sadly his performances have been well below par. A test average of 34 after 46 tests and more than 8 years in international cricket is ordinary. Can’t think of many who have been given so many chances.”

“When there are so many waiting in the wings and in top form. Shubhman Gill is in sublime form, Sarfaraz has been scoring tons in FC cricket and many who deserve a chance ahead of Rahul. Some are just lucky to be given chances endlessly till they succeed while some aren’t allowed to,” wrote Prasad in a series of tweets.

The bigger concern for the Indian team management will be another low score by Virat Kohli whose last Test hundred was the 136 he scored against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens in November 2019. Kohli, who scored 12 in Nagpur, has gone 21 Tests without reaching three figures and though had three scores of fifty or more in this drought period and a couple of scores in the 40s, the returns from his bat have been meagre, to say the least.

The 34-year-old former India captain has recently scored three centuries in ODIs recently — one against Bangladesh (113 at Chattogram in Dec 2022) and two against Sri Lanka (113 at Guwahati and 166* at Thiruvananthapuram in Jan 2023), the lack of runs in the longest format of the game is not easy to ignore.

The Indian team’s batting coach Vikram Rathour dismissed talks on Rahul’s run drought saying he has done well in South Africa to talk about dropping him.

“To be fair to KL (Rahul), in the past 10 Tests that he has played he (Rahul) has scored a couple of hundreds and a couple of fifties. He has a hundred in South Africa, he has a hundred in England and also has a couple of fifties. I don’t think we are there,” Rathour had said at the end of India’s first innings.

However, the team management can’t defend Kohli so easily as his run drought has continued for quite a long period.

With middle-order batter, Cheteshwar Pujara too departing cheaply in Nagpur, and debutants Suryakumar Yadav and KS Bharat failing to use the opportunity, it was bowlers Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Mohammed Shami that saved the day for India. After Ashwin (23) helped Rohit drag India past the 100-run mark, Jadeja (70) first combined with the skipper and then with Axar Patel (84) further propped up the innings. Shami’s cameo of 37 was the icing on the cake as far as lower-order batting was concerned.

With India inching closer to the WTC Final in June, it is time to take some drastic decisions to tackle the top-order batting woes. Otherwise, India may land into more trouble and there may not be enough time to solve these problems. The next three Tests are the right opportunity and the Indian team management should grab them with both hands.

Read more:

1st Test: India thrash Australia by innings and 132 runs

1st Test, Day 2: India lead Australia by 144 runs

Ravindra Jadeja to join India squad ahead of Australia Tests

Visualised this moment 1000 times, Unadkat on maiden Test wicket

England aim for Ashes glory after 3-0 Test win over Pakistan

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