Virat Kohli. Cheteshwar Pujara. Rohit Sharma. The ‘holy trinity’ has given Indian fans joyous moments over the years but how future ready is India’s Test batting as the trio is ready for their last dance. The seismic defeat during the WTC final at the Oval made it mandatory for the bigwigs to search for a solution to that question. Now! The failure of Pujara to kick on against Australia is severely hurting as he was perceived to be in fine fettle after his exploits with Sussex in the County Cricket. Pujara’s last memorable innings remains that 77 against Australia in Sydney in 2021, and if we take out a 90 and 102 against Bangladesh at Chattogram in 2022, the cupboard has a bare look.
In fact, Pujara has played 17 Tests in the 2021-2023 WTC cycle and made 928 runs at an average of 32 with a solitary hundred, a record so underwhelming for a team’s No. 3.
So, who is our next No 3? India tried Hanuma Vihari at that position during the home series against Sri Lanka in early 2022 and he returned with one fifty in 3 innings.
But that plan seemed to have shelved for the time being after Pujara returned to the side during the tour to Bangladesh later that year. We don’t seem to have another option anywhere around the corner at the moment.
However, India’s headache is not restricted to No. 3 as it trickles down to No. 4 as well, a position that belongs to modern-day great in Kohli.
Few other batsmen in the last decade have dominated the bowlers with Kohli’s arrogance but now just the facade remains as he struggles to build those edifices in Test cricket.
He seemed to have found his range in white ball formats but India need more of Kohli the Test batsman when they hit the next WTC cycle (2023-25) during the tour to the West Indies next month.
In the just concluded WTC cycle, Kohli made 932 runs from 17 Tests, averaging 32.13 with solitary hundred, a 186 against Australia earlier this year at Ahmedabad. But to be fair, the Ahmedabad track was one of the flattest featherbeds in recent years.
Kohli’s away average in same period dipped to 28.43 with no hundred.
So, who is our next No. 4 batter? We can think of Shyreas Iyer, who is currently injured, to step in for Kohli at some stage but the Mumbaikar still has to prove himself as an all-weather batsman.
Iyer also will have to sort out his distaste for short-pitched balls angled into his body, often leaving him in tangles but he seems more of a choice as No.5 batter.
Sarfaraz Khan had an excellent domestic run last season but the talk in Indian cricket circles is about his questionable technique against high quality fast bowling. Anything above medium pace hasn’t exactly been Sarfaraz’s cup of tea and he is more of a domestic run accumulator.
Also Sarfaraz was given at least seven India A Test matches and he failed to score even one hundred.
Often Rohit Sharma’s name will not come rushing into your mind during the discussions about India’s Test batting greats despite him appearing in 50 matches. But India captain offered a success story in the last WTC segment.
Rohit appeared in 11 Tests, amassing 758 runs at 42.11 with two centuries. His away record too has been significantly better compared to the home numbers during this period, averaging 52.57 as against 36.88. But at 36, can he last till 2025? We have Shubman Gill at one end ready to carry on the mantle but what about his partner? India seemed to have unearthed a reasonable long-term option in Mayank Agarwal but he has not played a Test since he second Test against Sri Lanka at Bengaluru last year.
Abhimanyu Easwaran, a technically sound opener, seemed to have ebbed away for now, and the powers that be will have to watch Yashasvi Jaiswal’s performance in domestic matches.
It’s imperative too because India have important tours coming up. India are scheduled to host England in early 2024 before travelling to Australia and England will return in 2025.
The team cannot be left on the crutches as those trips will have a bearing on India’s WTC ambitions.
These titans are hard to replace but India need back-ups/replacements for all these slots. It remains to be seen if the team management can make some bold calls and effect a rethink?
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