The India squad for the two-match home Test series against Windies has quite a new look. Some changes have been made with an eye on the future, while few have been forced upon the selectors. Domestic cricket star Mayank Agarwal has been rewarded with maiden call-up and will now compete with teenager Prithvi Shaw, who is also part of the squad, for the opening slot alongside KL Rahul.
On the other hand, Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya were omitted as they are yet to recover from their injuries. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been rested and youngster Mohammed Siraj has been called up for the first time to a Test squad. 24-year-old Hanuma Vihari, who scored a valiant fifty on debut in England, has retained his place in the squad.
Irrespective of who gets the opportunity on 4 October, nothing less then the best would be expected of the newcomers as the competition for a spot in the Indian team is stiffer than ever before in the recent past. To get the right measure of the competition, one must talk to Karun Nair — who has managed to play just three Tests since scoring a triple century against England in 2016.
However, nobody would be under more pressure than vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane going into the Rajkot Test. For the youngsters would get more opportunities even if they fail, but Rahane would take the field in the first match to salvage his Test career.
Rahane’s career has been on a downward spiral over the last two years but it hit rock-bottom in England. For a batsman known for his impressive overseas record, the 30-year-old had a torrid time as he managed just 257 runs in five Tests at an average of 25.70. Apart from the 81 at Nottingham in the third Test, India’s only win in the series, he failed to play any noteworthy innings.
After making his debut in 2013, Rahane quickly courted success, but the last 20 months have been anything but rosy. His Test career average that stood at 47.33 at the end of 2016 has now dipped to 40.90. In the last two years, Rahane has crossed the 100-run mark only twice, with the last one coming in Sri Lanka in August 2017.
While many expect Rahane to find form against world No 8 team Windies, there are no guarantees in international cricket. What makes the situation alarming is his less than acceptable performance against non-SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia ) countries. In eight matches against Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Windies in 2017 and 2018 so far, the right-handed batsman has scored 366 runs at a disappointing average of 33.27.
Rahane was found wanting technically in England, a massive fall for a batsman who made his name on the foundation of sound craftsmanship. As the ball swung, Rahane was caught poking outside off-stump and struggled against the ball that moved back in.
And now, stakes would be higher than ever for Rahane at Rajkot as selectors look to push out dead wood from the team. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, and Dinesh Karthik have been shown the door since the disappointing England series. Team India is undergoing a mini transition as the selectors and Virat Kohli aim to mount a winnable unit for the upcoming tour of Australia, their only chance to earn an overseas Test series win in near future after defeats in South Africa and England.
Failure is not an option for veteran Rahane as Kohli has shown over the course of his captaincy that he has little respect for reputation. Rahane was one of the early victims when he was dropped to accommodate Rohit Sharma in the first two Tests in South Africa. In England, Kohli opted to ignore Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara to allow Dhawan be part of the playing XI.
In such a case, poor return against Windies could see Rahane missing out on the flight to Australia. But as they say, when you hit rock-bottom the only way is up. Rahane would walk into the Rajkot Test after scoring a century and a half-century in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. And now the challenge for him would be to prove he’s tougher than the tough times.