“There are loopholes aplenty to fill but much of this tour could depend on starts and India aren’t off to a great one with Shaw being ruled out”
Day 1 of the only warm-up India managed ahead of their big tour Down Under was washed out but playing a depleted Cricket Australia XI could hardly prep them up enough for the real test when the Aussies gear up and come firing on all cylinders at Adelaide on December 6th. But this India side knows the rigours that come with tough overseas tours. Relying on a shambolic eleven put together for the sake of it by CA wasn’t going to be a grind so India had plans of their own.
Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, had flown in before the Tests to put the Indian batsmen through a set of well thought out drills. From tennis balls’ being smashed at high speed using a racquet to a manufactured rough outside the left-handers off-stump to practice against Mitchell Starc’s reverse swing threat, the coach had everything sorted out.
And then the unthinkable unfolded. Prithvi Shaw, only 19, but already a star in his own right, twisted his ankle in the field after a promising half-century in his first innings in Australia with the Indian side.
“Shaw underwent scans this morning and the reports revealed a lateral ligament injury. Shaw will be unavailable for the First Test against Australia in Adelaide. He will undergo an intensive rehabilitation program to hasten the recovery and be available for selection at the earliest,” BCCI said later.
He is unavailable for the first Test at least and India are suddenly left gaping at a wide hole at the top of the batting order with KL Rahul out of form and Murali Vijay returning to the side after being dropped in England. The only other contender for the opening slot outside the squad is Mayank Agarwal who is yet to debut after how the management decided they didn’t have to blood him against a shoddy West Indies line-up back home.
The Mayank quandary is an entirely different issue highlighting India’s poor selection policies and lack of foresightedness but the immediate danger is in covering up for Shaw who in his short career thus far promised to be an influential player on this tour. When he lambasted the CA XI attack for a rapid half-century, this belief gained substance. The success of Virender Sehwag in the country and the attacking instinct and technique of Shaw made way for comparisons and it seemed like India had at least one less worry ahead of the Test series.
When KL Rahul failed in the warm-up, Bangar was quick to chastise him with sharp words regarding his dismissals. “He (Rahul) has been looking in good shape, including today. It is just that he is finding new ways to get out. Even today, the ball was quite afar when he played it away from his body and lost his wicket. But what we are reading he is playing the ball well and he is one hit away (from form),” Bangar said after the second day’s play in the warm-up.
Rahul’s form wasn’t too concerning given that they had Murali Vijay back in the setup. His success in Australia on previous tours is well documented and his monk-like demeanour was something Indian fans had grown to accept and like, a security blanket at the top if you will call it that. With an average of 60.25 in the country, Vijay had aced the tour in 2014 and despite his decent fallacies in South Africa and England, he was a trusted opener.
Not Rahul, though. The talented opener gave a glimpse of his ability in an excellent 149 in the dead rubber against England at The Oval but had an ordinary series prior to that. His issues against the incoming ball made him a vulnerable opener against a threatening pace attack and the fact that he continuously frustrates by throwing away starts was evident from Bangar’s words after the game against CA XI.
“He is not a young player any more and he is on his second tour here. He has played 30 Tests and he has a responsibility. We expect him to play with that responsibility and play his role for the team,” the coach said.
Rahul’s time to step up may be here already with Shaw ruled out for Adelaide. India do not have a backup opener in sight although there are rumours of Rohit Sharma or Parthiv Patel walking out alongside Murali Vijay at Adelaide, a disaster in the waiting if that happens. The meticulous approach to the whole tour has gone downhill after a pre-series injury to a player who wasn’t even in the squad before the last overseas tour.
There are loopholes aplenty to fill but much of this tour could depend on starts and India aren’t off to a great one with Shaw being ruled out. That said, a solid opening stand from Rahul and Vijay at Adelaide could just be the inspiration this Indian side needs.