Rohit or Mayank, Rahul or Vihari, Thakur or Saini or Natarajan - Who will India pick for New Year's Test?
The Indian team management is mulling three changes for the Sydney test, where they will have an opportunity of going 2-1 up in the series.
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Rohit or Mayank
It is ironic for Mayank Agarwal that the place where he announced himself on the international cricket stage is set to become the place which leads to him getting dropped from the Indian team. Agarwal made his debut against Australia in the Boxing Day test match of 2018 and did a great job with scores of 76 and 42 in his debut match, at what could be an intimidating venue for a cricketer playing his first test.
However, coming on the back of two double centuries against South Africa and Bangladesh respectively, Agarwal has failed in his last six test innings and is likely to be benched for the Sydney test match. His highest score in the last three test matches has been 17, which he scored in the first innings of the Adelaide test match.
More than the runs not coming from his blade, it is his technique which has come under the scanner. Mayank has recalibrated his backlift which is now coming from quite high up, perhaps to provide him better bat swing in the IPL. As a result, he is getting late on the ball, especially the incoming deliveries. Mind you, Prithvi Shaw was dropped after the first test match for exactly the same reason.
Under normal circumstances, Agarwal might have got one more game, but it is the return of Rohit Sharma, who has been appointed the Indian vice-captain for the remaining two matches of the series, which has made the situation trickier.
Rohit Sharma has found sensational form in his second wind as a test opener and has taken up his test average to 46.54, with the best of 212 which came against South Africa in 2019. In the absence of Virat Kohli, his presence as a senior figure in the team will also be helpful for the visitors.
Sharma's natural ability to tackle pace and bounce and his glorious knack to hook and pull also makes his case stronger. Although it won't be easy for Sharma to hit the ground running, especially after he had to undergo two weeks of hard quarantine in Sydney in a two-room apartment, as things are set at the moment, he will walk out with Shubman Gill to open the batting for India in Sydney.
Rahul or Vihari
Hanuma Vihari has a case similar to Mayank Agarwal. Vihari did a great job on India's last tour of Australia and this series was expected to be a big one for him. However, he has managed scores of 16, 8 and 21 in his three innings till now and might have to make way for KL Rahul, who has been in sensational form in white-ball cricket over the last couple of years.
Some might incline towards giving Vihari another opportunity, especially due to his solid defence. Rahul, some might argue, is a different batsman in white-ball cricket than he is in red-ball cricket.
But, the stylish batsman is a more attacking option and India might just go for him to impart some oomph and novelty to their playing XI.
Thakur or Saini or Natarajan
India have lost quite a few of their first-choice pace bowling options. With T Natarajan having been added to the squad in place of Umesh Yadav, one of Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini or Natarajan will be a part of the Indian playing XI in Sydney.
Thakur is the only bowler among the three to have a test cap to his name. However, he too walked off in his debut test match with an injury after bowling just 10 balls.
Natarajan provides a left-arm option and some variety in the side but his lack of first-class experience may go against him. Saini's returns in the side matches against Australia A were not too pleasing and some feel that he might still be undercooked to play red-ball cricket at the highest level.
Hence, Shardul Thakur seems to be at the pole position to clinch a spot in the playing XI. Thakur is known for his natural ability to swing the ball away from the right-handers and has also added a couple of yards of pace of late. The Mumbai medium pace bowler is likely to complement Siraj and Bumrah in Sydney.
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