All stats from HowStat.
30th December 2014 – after drawing the Melbourne Boxing Day Test, MS Dhoni retires from Test Cricket and the captaincy is passed on to a young Virat Kohli with only 30-odd matches under his belt. Under his (and deputy Ajinkya Rahane’s) leadership, India win the next 3 Border-Gavaskar trophies, all by a 2-1 margin. As impressive as that sounds, it does not do justice to how great those wins were. Kohli was on the rise as a player when he assumed captaincy and he shaped Indian cricket in his image for the next 8 years. He’s since lost the captaincy, but I would not be surprised if he steals the show again, given his first purple patch in 2 years. The stage is set, the verbal battles are just starting and we have a month of highly competitive cricket ahead of us. A spot in the WTC Final is up for grabs and if things go to plan, this series could well serve as a dress rehearsal for the big showdown at The Oval later this year.
Historically, India have been unbeatable at home regardless of the format. This is backed up by numbers. The first Avengers movie had been out for a few months and Daniel Craig was midway through his turn as James Bond when the bilateral bullies last lost a Test Series at home – to England – in 2012-13. Since the turn of the century, India have a 30-2-5 Win-Loss-Draw home record. Enough with the numbers though, this series will be played on the field and not on paper. In fact, even the most ardent fans will tell you that this Aussie team on paper is strong, maybe even stronger than India – but this is what cricket needs right now: a Big 3 battle.
It is worth noting that Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara all went through very long dry spells at the same time yet the results did not suffer. From Shubhman Gill and Rishabh Pant to Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, the youngsters have stepped up to the occasion and saved India time and again with the bat. 5 bowlers with a combined experience of 9 Tests bowled Australia out twice in Australia and veterans Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah have also stepped up when it has mattered. India went into the last BGT as underdogs, a tag which only gained more credence after they were dismissed for 36 in Adelaide, with Virat Kohli being dropped after that Test. Times have changed since then.
Rohit Sharma played 3 Test matches in the past year, scoring only 90 runs with a highest score of 46. He’s always been under the scanner for his fitness issues, which have also caused him to miss multiple games. The future looks a lot more promising, though – his work on fitness seems to have paid off as he’s currently in the best shape he’s ever been in. Recently, despite not reaching the hundred mark, the runs have started to flow in limited overs and he’ll be itching to go out and lead from the front with the bat. There are two main candidates for the other opening slot – Shubhman Gill and KL Rahul. Gill‘s form in the last 2 months has been nothing short of a dream with centuries in all 3 formats and an ODI double hundred to spare. His Test career began in Australia in the last BGT and he got off to a good start. He struggled against England at home but with everyone well aware of his potential, it would be a mistake to drop him; the only question is does he open as he has been doing or does he move down the order at 5 to make space for senior player and vice-captain KL Rahul. Before we get to that though, another simpler question is: does Rahul even start? In 2022, he’s only crossed 25 once in 8 matches. On the other hand in 2021, he scored centuries in England and South Africa, both in a winning cause. Even if you do not want Rahul in the team, he is going to be there. It would take a lot to drop the vice-captain of the Test team and it is very likely that he’s the one walking in with Rohit Sharma with Gill pushed down to 5 in Iyer’s absence.
What’s for sure though is that he won’t be the main wicketkeeper, which leaves the door open for KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan. Let me get one thing out of the way, I want Wriddhiman Saha back in the team! Pant’s Test career took off during the 2018-19 BGT and it peaked at the 2020-2021 iteration, after which he became as big a name as Kohli or Rohit, at least with the red ball. He has been unfortunately ruled out due to injury. However, as far as like-for-like replacements for Pant go, it doesn’t get much better than Kishan. Both aggressive southpaw wicket keepers have been playing together since their U19 days but Kishan struggled at times with consistency. Even if you ignore limited overs form, he doesn’t have much of a Test record to back him up. Moreover, as someone who has been a reserve for long, KS Bharat almost certainly deserves to debut and who knows, maybe he’s the next hero to be thrown up by the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Speaking of heroes, Suryakumar Yadav – or SKY, as he is popularly known – has to be there. His T20I record needs no introduction but we really have to wonder whether that would be enough for Tests, considering it hasn’t even translated fully into ODIs yet. Emotions aside, maybe the best choice would be to exclusively keep SKY for the white ball as he’s as big a game changer as they come. Numbers 5 and 6 are really interesting positions in Tests, they are often irrelevant yet hold the potential to turn matches. On turning pitches, they become even more important because they need to be there to save the game when others fail. Having Gill and Bharat at 5 and 6 is definitely a positive move towards the future and passing this “Test” with flying colors might just elevate Shubhman Gill to the next level. I still don’t have full faith in this lineup but with Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli forming the core of the team at 3 and 4, I think a lot of us could put our worries to rest.
I do not think using numbers is a fair method of assessing either of their contributions given their sheer impact. It feels like only a matter of time before Kohli shatters every ODI record with him coming back to form but Test cricket is where we would like to be right now. He’s been loyal to the longest format and after a rough patch, he’s definitely found his groove again and what better place to get them at than home. And then there’s Pujara; he’s been around for as long as I can remember (I’m still quite young :p) and as a child, I always wanted him to get out so Sachin could come out and bat. That’s changed for sure because he’s been the architect of so many Test series wins, and most recently the last 3 BGTs. In 2016-17, he played the longest innings in terms of balls scoring a 200 after Australia had a winning start to the series. In 2018-19, he scored centuries twice in Australia and ensured the team did not suffer despite a shaky top order performance. He was the highest run scorer for India in both these series. In 2020-21, he had no milestones to show but being one of the only two players to play every match on an injury plagued tour, he did all he could, physically and mentally to carry an inexperienced team beyond the finish line. Always being criticized for being too slow and taking too much time, he put his head down and performed for his county team and was amongst the runs even in the ODI competition in England. He came back stronger, and if his innings against Bangladesh is anything to go by, Australian bowlers’ worst fears might be about to come true.
Editor: Aryan Chandramania
Designer: Jhalak Banzal
Latest posts by Tanish Taneja (see all)
- Cricket Corner: Looking Ahead to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (Pt III) - February 12, 2023
- Cricket Corner: Looking Ahead to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (Pt I) - February 7, 2023
- A CCC Response to 'Campus Canine Affairs' - December 31, 2022