One is not sure whether it will be Virat Kohli’s preferred five-bowler template, which features all-rounder Shardul Thakur, or an extra batsman in Ajinkya Rahane come in keeping in view the bouncy conditions in South Africa. As Team India gears up for the opening Test against South Africa in Centurion from 26 December, there is rationale both for and against the two propositions.
There is also a third angle to this combinatorial riddle and that’s Hanuma Vihari, who may or may not be considered for a start on Boxing Day.
Team India has been practising at the Supersport Park in Centurion for the past three days. Cricket South Africa has provided the visitors an opportunity to practise on the centre wicket in the main stadium.
Centre wicket practice before a Test match in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries is a rarity and the skills training (net session) always happens in an adjacent area, especially in Australia.
Head coach Rahul Dravid is heard speaking about “quality practice and good intensity”, which is what a centre strip training provides and middle-order batter Shreyas Iyer, with a smile, spoke about “grass on wicket” after his session in the middle — in a video that BCCI[dot]TV posted.
An attacking skipper tactically, Kohli, who does not believe in erring on the side of caution, would like to once again go in with five bowlers but it is the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, a very competent number 7 batter and also a left hander (good for variety), will be missed in the middle-order. “I think Shardul Thakur is the best choice if they go in with five bowlers as he also gives the option of a steady No.7 batter and we also have Ravichandran Ashwin,” former chairman of selectors MSK Prasad said.
“Four bowlers in this line-up are now confirmed if all fit — Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ashwin and Mohammed Siraj. I don’t think, Ishant will be considered ahead of Siraj on current form,” Prasad said.
Centurion is a place situated 1,300 m above sea level, which means a higher altitude where bowlers can get tired quickly and, in case of four bowlers, there remains a possibility of them getting tired.
But Prasad feels that it won’t be the case as India will go into the Test with a week’s practice, which will help the body get acclimatised. In that case, it won’t be a bad idea to play an extra batter. “I remember once we had a tournament in Nairobi when I played. On the first day of the training, we could barely complete a round of Nairobi Gymkhana as we were completely out of breath due to the altitude level of Nairobi city. After a couple of days, the body got used to it,” he said.
In case of an extra batsman, the choice is between Rahane and Vihari who was not a part of New Zealand Test series at home had three fifty plus scores, 54, 72 not out and 63 respectively against South Africa A and has gotten used to the conditions in the last one month.
However, Rahane, who perhaps is getting one last series to prove his worth, stands a better chance as of now to be the sixth batter if Kohli takes a more ‘Dravidian route’, which is safety first.
These 10 cricketers are making it for sure:
Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj.
The 11th name could be Shardul Thakur (bowling all-rounder) or Hanuma Vihari or Ajinkya Rahane (extra batter).