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India vs England 3rd Test: India’s batting thin, but Rohit Sharma’s comrades are no novices

Seldom has a more inexperienced Indian Test batting line-up taken the field in recent times.

Ahead of the Visakhapatnam encounter nearly two weeks back, former England skipper Joe Root alone had more Test runs (11,477) than the entire Indian XI combined (10,702). That anomaly will be corrected with the imminent return from injury of local lad Ravindra Jadeja for the third Test, beginning in Rajkot on Thursday. But seldom has a more inexperienced Indian Test batting line-up taken the field in recent times.

India’s captain Rohit Sharma with teammates Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal after the 2nd Test match against England, at Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, in Visakhapatnam (ANI)

The unavailability for different reasons of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul and the axing of Shreyas Iyer after a poor run of scores spanning nearly 12 months has left gaping holes in the batting order. With 56 Test appearances, skipper Rohit Sharma has comfortably played more games than all his specialist batting colleagues put together. Shubman Gill boasts 22 Test caps, Yashasvi Jasiwal will be turning out in his seventh Test, Rajat Patidar in his second. One of Sarfaraz Khan (most likely) or Devdutt Padikkal will be making his debut. And a maiden appearance is also on the cards for wicketkeeper-batter Dhruv Jurel, who might benefit from the lack of runs of KS Bharat (seven Tests). If England believe India are ripe for the picking, who can blame them?

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This is exactly the kind of situation teams try to guard against. From the time Australia lost a huge chunk of experience and expertise in the mid-80s, they put succession plans in place so they weren’t suddenly scrambling for replacements for long-serving virtuosos. India have also handled periods of transition with common sense and prudence; the decision-makers could not have foreseen the sequence of events that has now left them at a nominal disadvantage in their own backyard.

But while it is true that there is an unmistakable lack of Test experience within the Indian camp, Rohit’s comrades in the batting line-up are no novices thrown into the deep end on a wing and a prayer. Patidar, 30, made his debut earlier this month on the back of 4,000 first-class runs for Madhya Pradesh, Central Zone and India ‘A’. Sarfaraz is a battle-hardened 26-year-old with 45 games and an average of 69.85 in first-class cricket. At 23, the left-handed Padikkal is the youngest and least experienced of this trio, but he played two Twenty20 Internationals two and a half years back, has made more than 2,200 runs in domestic and ‘A’ cricket and has been the bulwark of Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy campaign this season.

Of course, these numbers can cut both ways. While the newcomers bring confidence, swag and a refreshing lack of baggage, there is no substitute for experience, especially in Test cricket. Then again, how does one accrue experience if one doesn’t play Test cricket? It’s the classic chicken-and-egg scenario. For long, the lack of fresh blood in the Indian camp was bemoaned when the think-tank kept going back to Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Admittedly, this sudden and unavoidable profusion of new faces isn’t ideal, but then again, isn’t this the opportunity to lay down the marker and lay claim to the hero’s crown?

India’s young guns will have a reasonably good batting deck to ease into the unforgiving cauldron of the five-day game. But in their bid to make a name for themselves, they will look for support from the top, in every sense of that word, which magnifies the attention on Rohit.

The inspirational captain hasn’t had the best of times with the bat in recent Tests. He can’t be said to be out of form – his explosive exploits in the 50-over World Cup are still fresh in memory and it wasn’t even a month ago that he smashed a fifth T20I hundred – but in red-ball play, he has gone without a half-century for eight innings, all in the last seven weeks. In that period, he has two scores of 39 each; he batted with care in the first Test in Hyderabad, but without going into his shell. In Visakhapatnam, however, maybe because he felt he needed to bed in with Kohli, Rahul and Jadeja all out of commission, he pottered around for 41 deliveries in making 14, his absolute commitment to bridling his natural positivity totally out of character.

It was only last year that Rohit lay down the marker against Australia on a wearing Nagpur deck with a sublime 120 in the first Test. India, given the thinness of their batting, need that Rohit back. After the week-long back, it’s as if this is the start of a three-Test series. Maybe that’s the incentive the captain needs to bat with the flair and authority that has served him and his team so well.


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