Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund had a very good Galle Test. Dhawan celebrated his return to the Test side with a belligerent 190 that took just 168 balls and had traces of his debut knock against Australia in Mohali in 2013 where he hit 187.
Mukund improved his game as the match wore on, first affecting a run out and then taking a fine catch at short leg in the Sri Lankan first innings before putting his head down and grinding out 81 as India put up a 550-run target.
The opening combination, which was one of the few areas of concern for the Indians going into the first Test, worked out like a charm. But it wasn’t supposed to be like that.
The Indians looked set to field KL Rahul and Murali Vijay at the top of the order in Sri Lanka. But Vijay didn’t recover from the wrist injury that had kept him out of action since the series against Australia in March. So Dhawan (right) was named as his replacement after his stupendous showing in England during the Champions Trophy in June. Mukund was the back-up opener in the squad and once Rahul contracted flu and was declared unfit to play, both Dhawan and Mukund got their opportunity to put on the India jersey.
So India now face the same ‘problem’ that has cropped up a couple of times in that past – how to handle the replacements?
India have had a clear-cut plan as far as first-choice players are concerned. Whenever a player proves his fitness, he walks right back into the team irrespective of what his replacement has done.
Mukund scoring runs in the second innings has created a wonderful dilemma...who should be benched if Rahul is fit and available. #SLvIND— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) July 29, 2017
It’s the reason why Karun Nair had to make way for Ajinkya Rahane for the Bangladesh Test in February despite scoring a triple ton against England in the previous match.
It’s also the reason why Wriddhiman Saha got the wicketkeeping gloves as soon as he regained fitness after being ruled out of the last three Tests against England due to tendinitis. He was replaced by Parthiv Patel, who scored two fifties and 42, and also kept well.
The Indian management, which included Anil Kumble as head coach at the time, had made it clear that first-choice players will get to play when fit.
“It’s a great plus for the players. Because after an injury hiatus, when someone makes a comeback, if he is clearly told “as and when you recover, you will be back in the team”, the individual gets more motivated and that reflects in his performance,” Saha had said after returning to the side for the Bangladesh Test.
That means Dhawan and Mukund will most likely be benched once Rahul and Vijay are fully fit. Or India will have to drop a bowler to accommodate one of the two, most probably Dhawan. Remember, a batsman like Rohit Sharma is still out of the team.
The existing policy was pushed by Kumble who wanted clear guidelines for players when it came to proving fitness and returning to the team.
And if Ravi Shastri too gives it his stamp of approval, India will sport a familiar look when all players are fit. It’s good for the team environment but no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for the player.