CHENNAI: For the tour of South Africa, India looked at the home series against Sri Lanka as a preparation of sorts. It turned into an audition with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma’s hundreds ensuring they started the first Test in Cape Town. With the tour of Australia looming large, India hoped to use the two Tests against West Indies — not surprisingly — as a sort of a platform to try a new opening combination and test a pace attack missing first-choice personnel — Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma.
Despite wrapping up the two-match Test series in six days, there is still plenty of homework left for the think-tank to do before they depart for Australia. Sure, there is a limited-overs leg to be played against West Indies but their minds will definitely be occupied with what awaits them Down Under.
The opening combination has been the foremost concern for this side and it has proved to be their biggest ailment in the two overseas Test series they have played this year. In the England series alone, they tried three opening combinations and got rid of two midway through the tour. In came rookies Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal to partner first-choice KL Rahul.
Barring any injuries, Rahul and Shaw will take guard in Adelaide, the venue for the first Test. Among the two, only Rahul has played before in Australia (two Tests) and they know they lack experience at the top of the order, a hole they can ill-afford to have considering how significant the series is for the team and captain Virat Kohli. Having lost the series in South Africa and England, a similar outing in Australia — against a depleted side — will be hard to take. Which is why India will think twice before taking bold calls.
The inclusion of Shaw has brought fresh air at the top, but concerns still persist. In a long tour, if one of Rahul or Shaw don’t click, the visitors will have only Agarwal to fall back on. Which is why sending Murali Vijay to New Zealand with India A could be the ideal dress rehearsal. Shaw’s first two Tests has showed he does have the mettle to fire at the top, a trait India has been looking for ever since Virender Sehwag exited the stage. It was the reason why they kept going back to Dhawan despite his numbers not being up to the mark.
“The guy (Shaw) has grabbed his chance beautifully. He looks like someone that can get you off to the kind of start that you require, especially to make the first mark in any series that you play. So from that point of view it’s great to have a guy who’s so fearless. And he’s not reckless. He’s very confident about his game. You might feel like he’s going to get out. But he hardly nicks the ball. He was really attacking but in control throughout which is a very rare quality against the new ball. To play so many shots and be in control of all of them is a great sign,” Kohli said.
In Australia, India might also be required to move aside from their comfort zone of playing an all-rounder and four bowlers. There is a strong possibility that they will miss the services of Hardik Pandya in Australia because of workload issues, which means India may have to deviate from their tried and tested method.
Sans Pandya, India will be forced to tinker with the combination, given they are unlikely to play two spinners — Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. It will also mean they have to manage the workload of the pacers as four Tests in a month’s time is bound to further test their conditioning to the hilt. Given how there will be little swing to offer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar might not feature in the plans leaving Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant and Umesh Yadav to share the burden.