Another one bites the dust. As India looked to get back up on their feet after batting debacles in the first two Tests, they sacrificed another proven performer in the pursuit of results.
It’s a clear that Virat Kohli‘s Indian team values results over everything else. Sheer grit shown without any actual results gets forgotten a lot sooner than should be the case. During the last tour of England, opener Murali Vijay scored 146 and 52 in the Nottingham Test. This year, he was dropped for the third match at Trent Bridge and his spot went to Shikhar Dhawan.
Dhawan has his own weaknesses against the away-moving ball but credit to him for adding 60 for the opening stand in Trent Bridge. But that is beside the point. The fact is when Kohli picked the playing XI, he had more faith in the busy cricket of Dhawan than the steadiness of Vijay. Admitted, Vijay bagged a pair in the second Test but apart from Kohli, and bowlers/all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Ravi Ashwin, no one scored any runs there. KL Rahul’s highest score in four innings was 13 but he retained his spot.
Slowly, the Indian Test team is pushing the ‘grafters’ to the sidelines. Positive is a new buzzword and if you look like your are always on the hunt – for fours, singles or wickets – there is a greater chance of acceptance within the team.
It started with Cheteshwar Pujara in 2016. He wasn’t considered forceful enough, was told so and ended up getting involved in six of the next eight Indian run-outs in Tests. And he was run-out by his captain Kohli in the second Test at Lord’s after being dropped from the first.
Ravindra Jadeja has been reduced to a Test specialist but when the opportunity came to have two spinners in the second Test at Lord’s – even though it was a wrong call – India went with wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav and not the left-armer who was instrumental in making India the No1 Test team in the world. What’s worse, Kuldeep got a pair and bowled nine fruitless overs. Jadeja couldn’t have been worse.
This new strategy might still work for the Indian team. Who knows, they might spark a remarkable comeback in the five-Test series in England, do even better in Australia and prove the aggression-first policy as the right one.
But that won’t give any comfort to the likes of Vijay, Jadeja and Pujara who are basically Test specialists now and are being squeezed out in favour of those who are good enough and do a bit of everything.
If he gets selected, it will be one of the more bold decisions made by the Indian team in recent years. India are 2-0 down in the Test series with all batsmen, apart captain Virat Kohli, looking at sea against the moving ball.
Pant, 20, has played just four T20 Internationals and 23 first-class matches. Fielding him in England with the series on the line will be a brave move.
Here we look at five instances when Indian selectors and management blooded in a youngster in the Test team.
SACHIN TENDULKAR v PAKISTAN 1989
One of the boldest decisions taken in contemporary cricket. A 16-year-old Sachin was handed his Test cap in, off all places, Pakistan. One of the most talented teenagers ever seen, it was still a monumental challenge in Karachi against a Pakistan side that had Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir and a debutant in Waqar Younis.
He made a fifty in the second Test, proved his technique and temperament and went on to become one of the greatest cricketers of all time with 100 international centuries.
PARTHIV PATEL v ENGLAND 2002
Baby-faced Parthiv drew compassionate looks rather than fearful glances when he made his debut in England. Patel, 17, was not the best keeper in the country but was known to be a fearless batsmen. His courage was called upon in his first Test itself as he had to bat out 60 balls in the second innings on the final day with the team eight wickets down in Nottingham to earn a draw.
However, indifferent wicketkeeping forced India to look elsewhere. And they soon found an all-time great in MS Dhoni.
ISHANT SHARMA v AUSTRALIA 2008
The Delhi pacer, then 18, had already played two Tests with decent returns, so was on the selectors’ radar. During the tour Down Under in 2007-08, Ishant was drafted in the side after Zaheer Khan’s injury for the second Test in Sydney – better known for the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal – and made an impact. He didn’t pick up a wicket but troubled all batsmen with his late seam and steep bounce.
His spell in the Perth against Ricky Ponting raised his profile immeasurably and Ishant went on to become one of the longest-serving fast bowlers in Indian cricket with 245 scalps from 84 Tests.
KULDEEP YADAV v AUSTRALIA 2017
With the series tied 1-1, India entered the final Test of the Border Gavaskar series in Dharamsala without captain Virat Kohli, who missed the match due to injury. Stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane took the decision to go in one batsman short and picked left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav. That proved to be the match and series-winning decision as Kuldeep picked four first innings wickets.
Now, the 23-year-old has become one of the best white-ball spinners in the world.
JASPRIT BUMRAH v SOUTH AFRICA 2018
This one came out of the blue. Bumrah had become the top bowler for India in white-ball cricket but was seen as a limited overs specialist. However, his sustained pace and accuracy led to a selection for the South Africa tour earlier in the year. There he bowled with such venom in the nets that the management had to pick him for the three Test series.
Bumrah produced some of the most hostile spells of fast bowling by an Indian pacer and was instrumental in keeping the team in with a chance every match. He finished with 14 wickets from three Tests.
Indian cricket icons paid tribute to former captain Ajit Wadekar – who led the country to their first series win in England and the West Indies – following his death at the age of 77.
“He will always be remembered as the ‘renaissance man’ of Indian cricket,” BCCI chief executive Rahul Johri said after it was announced that Wadekar passed away in a Mumbai hospital following prolonged illness.
Wadekar scored 2,113 runs in 37 Test matches, including one century.
Wadekar was also first captain of India’s ODI and he later on became coach, manager and chairman of Indian selectors.
Legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Anil Kumble paid tribute to Wadekar’s influence on Indian cricket.
“He was someone who was instrumental in bringing out the best in us during the 90s. We’ll always be grateful for his advice and guidance,” said Tendulkar.
Azharuddin excelled as India’s captain from 1993 to 1996 under Wadekar’s guidance.
Azharuddin said that Wadekar had been “iconic” and a “father figure for me …. May his soul rest in peace.”
Kumble, who made his comeback to the Indian team in a 1992-93 tour of South Africa, said that Wadekar “was more than a coach to the entire team – a father figure and a shrewd tactician”. “Thank you Sir for the confidence shown in my ability!” Kumble added.
Virat Kohli hailed Wadekar as a “legendary”, tweeting: “India and its millions will always remember you fondly.”