It’s time for Test matches for team India……
After the tamasha of the Indian Premier League, the caravan moves to Bengaluru where the Indian team will be back in their whites, taking on Afghanistan in what is going to be a historical match. Afghanistan will not only become the twelfth team to don the white flannels, they will also be relying on match-winners like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to help them create ripples in their very first outing.
However, the focus will remain on India’s premier players, who have the opportunity to make a mark and garner some momentum before the team sets off for England in what is going to be a gruelling series. Sans Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane has been giving the responsibility of leading the side, and while the opposition might threaten courtesy their slow bowlers, the fact remains that the home side are far more superior than their counterparts.
The one-off Test match will be in the news for the return of Dinesh Karthik in the side after more than 8 years. The player was recalled in the team after an injury to Wriddhiman Saha ruled the Bengal keeper out and with an intense England tour coming back, the opportunity is ripe for Karthik to make a mark. Though Parthiv Patel is included in the team as well, considering Karthik’s recent form and his confidence that saw him lead his IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders to the top-three, it would not be a surprise if the Tamil Nadu cricketer is given the go-ahead in place of Patel.
Moreover, it would be a wiser decision to try out Karthik in India against a weaker opposition, which will give him adequate time to get his eye in and allow him to change his style of play according to the 5-day format. Even if he is not the first-choice keeper for England, the long series in UK does have the risk of an injury and if either Saha or Parthiv is injured in England, the Indian camp will have a back-up ready in Karthik. It would be foolish to rush him in without a Test match in 8 years in England, and for Karthik, the moment is ripe.
Though Saha is one of the best keepers in India, he has hardly inspired with his batting. The same can be said for Parthiv as well, and if Karthik can seize the moment, he could well be the first-choice player in England.
The second player on whom all eyes will be fixated is KL Rahul. The cricketer is coming into the game after a highly successful IPL, in which he amazed with his confidence and his stroke-play. Ideally, he should be given a chance ahead of Shikhar Dhawan, whose lack of technique in overseas conditions is well-documented. He is a solid batsman, who has the capability of batting for long periods and with an average over 40 in the format, Rahul will be eager to impress as well.
Karun Nair has been picked in the side as well, but unless he can perform a miraculous deed, he is likely to make way for Kohli in England.
The other avenue is, of course, the spin department. With the inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav, the successful chinaman bowler, in the team, the pressure has increased manifold on Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. Both the spinners have ordinary records away from home, even as their figures in India remain impressive. Kuldeep, on the other hand, stood out in his outings in the unhelpful seaming conditions in South Africa, and even though it is in the 50-over format, the magic of wrist-spin lies not upon the external environmental factors but on the skill and the ability of the bowler in question to deceive the batsmen in the air.
Hence, even as Ashwin and Jadeja might get a game against Afghanistan, and they might pick up crucial wickets as well, in England, they are not guaranteed a spot, which makes the rivalry between the two and Kuldeep even more fiercer.
Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will be handling the pace attack, with considerate help from Hardik Pandya. Ishant’s county experience is sure to work in his favour, and even as the Indian squad gets ready to face the upbeat Afghan side, they will be aware that the game is just a prelude to the greater battle that lies ahead in England.