India’s Tour of Australia 2020/21: Questions, Quicks, and Captaincy Controversy
Kartikay Dutta, Undergraduate Batch of 2023
Close to nine months since they last lined up in the sky blue, the Indian men’s cricket team will be returning to our screens and under the nation’s scrutiny as they tour the land Down Under for nearly three months between November 27 and January 19. As always, there are a great many questions which the national team must answer before and over the course of the arduous exploration of the Antipodes, and as always, the answers (and lack thereof) are likely to be a constant thorn in their sides. With a strange IPL season which did act as something of a panacea to the cricket-crazed among us now in the rearview, The Edict presents 6 questions the Indian cricket team must try to find answers to if they wish to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
How will the batting fare with the big guns missing?
Despite captaining the Mumbai Indians to a fifth IPL title with a handy 68 in the final, Rohit Sharma is not travelling with the team ahead of the limited over internationals and will miss the Test series as well, following fitness concerns which cropped up right before the BCCI’s announcement of the squads for the tour. There is no doubt that the only man with multiple ODI double centuries is still likely to be missed; the hope remains that KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, the two highest run-getters of the IPL, will come good against the Australian attack in both ODIs and T20Is.
Even more concerning, however, is how the team will manage to replace Virat Kohli following his perfectly justified decision to return home for the birth of his first child following the day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval. The Indian batting lineup looks substantially weaker with his absence, and it remains to be seen whether that famous number 4 spot in the Indian order might turn out to be an uncharacteristic weakness.
Does the bowling attack have enough to castle Australia’s top order?
Strangely, bowling is likely to be India’s strength in the shorter formats of the game even with Bhuvneshwar Kumar missing out with injury. The form of the frontline bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal along with the rising stocks of Navdeep Saini and T Natarajan provide reason for optimism, especially in the early games of the tour.
There is a feeling, however, that a lot will depend on Ishant Sharma’s form in the tests. Having become the dependable workhorse pacer for India’s red-ball team in recent years, he will need to hold up his end of the rope as the bowling rota will look to pierce through the enviable top order of the Aussie test lineup. David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne all looked imperious in the series against Pakistan right before the lockdown struck, and are likely to be the largest impediment in India’s quest to retain the BG Trophy. If they are allowed to rack up runs like they usually do, the watered-down Indian batting lineup will face a massive uphill battle while trying to claw back ground. Their wickets will be worth more than gold.
Does KL Rahul open or bat in the middle order?
With Rishabh Pant not included in the white-ball set-up for the tour, MS Dhoni hanging up his gloves and Rohit Sharma ruled out, there are two holes in the batting order and seemingly only one obvious candidate to fill them. Given his form opening for Kings XI Punjab, one wouldn’t be remiss to assume that the best use of KL Rahul’s talents might be right at the top alongside Shikhar Dhawan with Mayank Agarwal not capitalizing on his chances in the tour of New Zealand. However, this leaves a spot between Shreyas Iyer at 4 and Hardik Pandya at 6, with each candidate coming with their own set of question marks: will Shubman Gill provide the explosiveness? Does Sanju Samson have the patience? Is Manish Pandey suited to playing that low down the order? Iyer might well be pushed to 5, but whatever decision is taken, it will be a gamble, and it might well be too late once a decent balance is found in Rohit’s absence.
Speaking of balance — what if Hardik Pandya still can’t bowl?
The Mumbai Indians used Hardik Pandya solely as a batsman in the IPL, but that might not be good enough for the Indian side. With Ravindra Jadeja showing bowling form which is unlikely to fill a fan with confidence, asking him to bowl ten whole overs in the ODIs might be a leap too far (and begs the question for why Axar Patel, showing the form of his life in the IPL, didn’t get a well-deserved call-up to the T20s.) If Pandya is unable to bowl, it might mean dropping that perplexing fifth batsman for a bowler (Shardul Thakur in ODIs, who can bat a little bit, and one of T Natarajan or Deepak Chahar in T20s.) This will certainly place a lot of pressure on the top order with very little buffer against cheap wickets, and makes the four or five overs Hardik can provide all the more vital. Questions, questions.
The captaincy conundrum — about time or untimely?
Much of India’s fanbase is beginning to grow disenchanted with Virat Kohli leading the limited overs sides, pointing towards the limitations in his leadership and how his brand of aggression might not be the best scenario for India as its younger stars slowly begin developing into the fold. India’s poor performances in major tournaments and significant LOI series have resulted in many voices asking for Rohit Sharma to take the mantle instead — voices growing louder with Sharma’s continued success at the head of the Mumbai Indians. Kohli will feel the pressure on him, but it remains his position to lose ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup at home.
An extra dimension has been added with the question of who will be chosen to lead the test side post Kohli’s leave, with the likely candidate being vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. A poor tour might force the board’s hand into making tough decisions — the fewer to be made, the happier all of India will be.