“It is safe enough to say that the outcome of the series would have been slightly different for India had they rotated the batsmen according to the conditions. This strategy will provide a team flexibility and a pool of tested players to pick from, which will only benefit the side”.
India have had a tough time in South Africa, losing both the Tests and now fighting for pride in the third one. Along with Indian batsmen’s poor show, a lot of other things have hogged the headlines including their poor selection. India made some mind-boggling selections in the first two games and raised a lot of eyebrows by not opting for a batsman, who could have done well in these conditions.
Indian bowlers did a fantastic job in the series opener, but their batting failed to fire and didn’t get the required runs. Going into the second game, India opted for Ishant Sharma ahead of an in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was also India’s best bowler at Cape Town. One of the main reasons behind Ishant’s inclusion was him being more suited to the conditions offered in the Centurion Test. The point is if bowlers can be rotated according to conditions, why not batsmen?
In the series opener, KL Rahul was benched while Ajinkya Rahane’s poor form didn’t see him being drafted into the playing XI. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma were given a go, but the move hardly paid off. Yes, they were in solid form against Sri Lanka at home but failed to replicate similar magic whatsoever in South Africa.
Another question that springs to mind, is, that just because Rohit and Dhawan were in form does not mean that they are suited to these conditions. India are not playing Ravindra Jadeja here, Bhuvneshwar was not in the second Test either, presumably because the conditions at Centurion wouldn’t have helped him.
If bowlers were rotated as per the conditions then why can’t the same strategy be used with batsmen?
India would have easily played Rahane over Rohit in the first two games as the numbers suggest that the former is more suitable for alien conditions. He likes playing seam rather than spin and has proved his credentials on foreign soil. Not just numbers, the style of play and temperament too suggest that Rahane is more likely to taste more success in these conditions than Rohit.
Rahane averages 52.17 in away Tests, but he was overlooked for his poor form back at home. He oozes with confidence when the seamers are putting in the hard yards. Not many anticipated him to be excluded from the playing XI in South Africa, but many eyebrows were raised when Rohit Sharma took guard at Cape Town ahead of Rahane.
India lost the series opener by 72 runs, safe to say, not by a very big margin. Rohit failed to fire and who knows what the outcome of the game would have been had Rahane been around. It would have not only added some stability to the line-up but had also given Rahane that psychological edge. The reassurance regarding his spot in the line-up would have given him the liberty and confidence to do well.
After the defeat at Cape Town, many expected India to call Rahane back into the line-up. Rohit looked bereft of oomph on the speedy Cape Town surface and many expected Rahane to garner runs on these kinds of surfaces. India once again made surprising changes for the Centurion Test, benching Bhuvneshwar and sticking with Rohit.
At this level, small decisions make a huge difference. India certainly missed a trick in not playing Rahane in the first two games. He is termed as an overseas specialist and is easily India’s most consistent batsman on foreign soil. This was his zone, he thrives in these conditions. Rohit was eventually dropped and Rahane was roped in for the Johannesburg Test.
Dhawan did have a good run at home in whites, but one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that KL Rahul inspires more confidence when it comes to overseas. Although Rahul has failed to fire in three innings so far, but here we are talking about rotating players as per the conditions. Not a single question is being raised on Dhawan’s potential, but Rahul has the temperament and his average 42.26 (prior to South Arica tour) in away games corroborates the belief.
South Africa is easily one of the toughest places to open the batting against the red ball. Any side needs to invest in their players and give them a longer rope. Indian openers have failed to fire, and why was Dhawan dropped after the first game? If his style of play was not suited to these conditions, he shouldn’t have been picked in the first place. And even if the team decided to invest in him, he should have been given a longer breathing space and not be axed after one bad game.
It is safe enough to say that the outcome of the series would have been slightly different for India had they rotated the batsmen according to the conditions. This strategy will provide a team flexibility and a pool of tested players to pick from, which will only benefit the side. At stumps on Day 1, the momentum was with South Africa, but one can expect India to bounce back with the ball.