One Kohli, two matches
There is no shortage of superlatives – well deserved most of them – for Virat Kohli, but the Indian selectors, in collusion with Surrey, might have given him a task even Superman King Kohli might struggle to fulfil.
Surrey’s website says: “Kohli will be available for all cricket throughout the month [of June] until the close of Surrey’s trip to Scarborough to face Yorkshire [June 25 to 28].” On Tuesday, though, the Indian selectors named Kohli the captain for the T20Is in Ireland, to be played on June 27 and 29. Surrey have time and again made it a point to say Kohli is available to them through the month of June. And if the match in Scarborough goes the distance, it is hard to see how Kohli can make it to even the second T20I in Ireland. Wonder what the Indian selectors have in mind.
Is Rohit Sharma the Test batsman out of favour?
“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days. Before the first Test, no one thought that he [Ajinkya Rahane] should be in the XI, and now suddenly people are looking at the other option [ahead of Rohit Sharma, who played the first Test ahead of Rahane].”
This was Virat Kohli on the eve of the second Test in South Africa. It is funny how things have changed in another five days’ time. Rohit had another ordinary Test, following the Cape Town failure with one in Centurion, was dropped for Johannesburg, and now finds himself out of the Afghanistan Test in Bengaluru. Apart from Kohli, who is away to play county cricket during the month at India play Afghanistan, Rohit is the only specialist batsman from the last Test side who is excluded. ESPNcricinfo has been told the selectors found his performance in South Africa “less than satisfactory”. Now they want to give Karun Nair a run before they make a decision for the big England tour.
Signs are not good if you are Rohit. Nair is part of the A tour too, as captain of the four-day squad. If India wanted to invest more in Rohit, they would have sent him over for the A tour at least. There are no reports of Rohit trying to hook up with any county either. If India do take the big step of not taking Rohit to England, it will be the first time since the England tour in 2011 that India will travel for a Test series without him.
Is Ajinkya Rahane the ODI batsman out of favour?
Things are changing just as quickly for Rahane in ODIs. Not long ago, Kohli had welcomed him back to the side with the bona fide intention of giving him a decent run at No. 4 because, according to Kohli, Rahane had the experience of doing that, and also because the conditions for the World Cup were not expected to be slow and low, which is where Rahane traditionally struggles in the middle order. In South Africa, with surfaces ironically more on the slower side than quick, Rahane got five innings at No. 4, scored a 79 in the first and a 34 not out in the fifth, but 11, 8 and 8 in between.
Now Rahane is out, not least because KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu have presented compelling cases for themselves in the IPL. Kohli had said he was happy with how most of the squad was shaping up for the World Cup, and that No. 4 was the only slot that needed to be “solidified”. In that light, this seems more like a final blow. India’s top three in ODIs is arguably the best in the world, and Kohli seemed reasonably happy with MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya at 5, 6 an 7. This is a series to further experiment with that No. 4 slot, and also look at Jadhav’s position again because he has shown a bit of a tendency to get injured when he pushes himself.
The 50-over World Cup is only about a year away, and there isn’t much time left for ambitious experiments. The World T20, however, is scheduled to be played in 2020, which should leave India room to try out stellar performers in the IPL. Over the last few years, Rishabh Pant and Krunal Pandya have been two of the best Indian players in the IPL. This season, Krunal has taken nine wickets while returning an economy rate of under 7.5 – the second-best for Mumbai Indians – and is their fourth-highest run-getter, at a strike rate of 148. And this is no exception to how his recent few seasons have been.
Pant might not have set the world alight with the limited chances he has got at the international level, but he continues to make big statements a level below that. In a dim season for Delhi Daredevils, Pant has been their shining light, scoring 393 runs at a superlative strike rate of 173. There is no doubting Dhoni has made a superb comeback this season, but Pant has made sure the pressure is on.
This would have been an ideal time to give them a run with the 2020 World T20 in mind, but the selectors have left them out yet again.