RAJKOT: After the England low, India are back in their own den. West Indies are the opponents for the two-Test series. Keeping in mind the upcoming tour of Australia later this year, the world’s No 1 Test side will look to two of the youngest players in the squad to bring stability to two of their problem areas.
Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant will take to field at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium after the team management deviated from the tradition of keeping their cards close to their chest by naming 12 on the eve of the first Test.
Both are not the stereotypical cricketers one associate with the longest format. Shaw is an explosive opener who likes to attack, while Pant comes in at a crucial position, as the leader of the lower-order. These have been areas of concern for the team of late, especially in overseas conditions, where the lower-order couldn’t replicate some of their past exploits.
“We know as a team that we need to focus on our top and lower-order. If you look at sides who win Test matches on a regular basis, contributions from the top and lower half are more important than what happens in the middle (order),” skipper Virat Kohli said.
Both Shaw and Pant starred for the country in U-19 World Cups (Pant in 2016 and Shaw in 2018). While the Mumbai player, who is set to become the second youngest Indian opener after Vijay Mehra at 18-plus, has a first-class strike rate of 76.69 in 14 games, Pant’s is 91.50 from 26. The duo, who play for the same IPL team (Delhi Daredevils), made heads turn in the last edition.
Shaw, incidentally returns to the venue, where he made his first-class debut. He had made it memorable by scoring a century against Tamil Nadu in 2017.
There has been intense competition for both slots. India have tried seven openers — Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Parthiv Patel, Gautam Gambhir and Abhinav Mukund — in 10 separate pairings since January 2014. With Vijay and Dhawan not in the fray after failures, the new pair of Shaw and Rahul have expectations to shoulder.
The team management has always insisted on having a left-right combination up top as well as someone who can be aggressive right from the start. Dhawan’s style of batting was looked upon as an asset. Shaw fits the ‘aggressive’ criteria.
Shaw comes here on the back of impressive scores in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where his strike-rate is the highest of all batsmen with more than 125 runs. All he needs to do is carry on in the same vein and not get overawed by the occasion, according to vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane.
“I have seen him since his young days. We used to practise together. He is an attacking opener. He just needs to play like he has been and everything will be fine.”
On the other hand, since MS Dhoni’s Test retirement, India has been on the lookout for someone who can not only fill his gloves but provide the lower-order some much-needed impetus. There were many in the list from Wriddhiman Saha to Dinesh Karthik to Parthiv but none could replicate the explosive batting or stablitity of Dhoni. With his impressive century against England in the fifth Test, the 20-year-old Pant has given the team a semblance of hope.
Kohli is aware of the pressure the new members of the dressing room must be feeling and how such a short series is not the best way to grab the attention of everybody.
“We have a change at the top of the order. Rishabh is also obviously new. We will give new players enough space and chances so that they feel comfortable at that position. I know the new guys will take a bit of time but they definitely have the skill. What we have seen of them during training is very exciting,” the India skipper added.