India suffered a 77 run deficit as they were bowled out for a below-par 208 in the second innings. They did well to reach such a target after being in the precarious position of 92-7, which required a superb 93 from Hardik Pandya to force India back into contention. After India’s top order failed, bar some stubborn resistance from Cheteshwar Pujara, lots of talk has turned to their team composition. Hindsight is an invaluable tool, but it is clear that the Indian selectors have made several costly mistakes. It was wrong to overlook overseas specialist Ajinkya Rahane, while Jaspirit Bumrah’s selection made very little sense.
Indian Selectors Should Have Shown More Faith In Rahane
If it weren’t for his recent poor form at home, Ajinkya Rahane would have been one of the first names in India’s starting XI for the First Test. The first seeds of doubt were planted early in the 2016/17 season, when Rahane failed to impress against England. He had a disastrous series, failing to cross the fifty mark once in the three Tests he played. His 63 runs came at an average of just over 12, which highlights his dismal performance. However, Rahane bounced back in fine form against Bangladesh, Australia and Sri Lanka. He got fifties in each of those series and hit a fine 132 in Sri Lanka, accumulating 537 runs in those eight Tests. If India’s tour to South Africa came just after India’s tour to Sri Lanka, which it was scheduled to have been originally, Rahane would have certainly started. Unfortunately for him, though, India had one more hastily organised series against Sri Lanka to navigate. This turned out to be a disaster for Rahane, who managed a pathetic 17 runs in three Tests.
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There is undoubtedly a credible school of thought that says to pick in-form players. In this case Rohit Sharma would certainly edge Rahane to selection, considering he had scores of 102*, 65 and 50*. Indeed, the fact that this came against the same opposition and at the same time neatly allowed the Indian selectors to compare the two. Yet, I believe there is a huge distinction to be made between picking players for a home series and away tours. Rahane is an overseas specialist, to a certain extent. He belongs to a small group of players who average considerably more away than at home and has runs all over the world. Rahane averages just 33 in India, but a more than impressive 53 away from home. On top of this, Rahane averaged close to 70 in his last tour of South Africa. The Indian selectors seemed to have very little regard for his overseas track record.
Perhaps there is also an argument to be made that Rohit was selected because of his limited overs performances, which is a rather dangerous prospect. In the ODI series against Sri Lanka, Rohit blasted a third double hundred and made history in the process. To follow this up, Rohit hit the joint fastest ever T20 hundred en route to his 43 ball 118. There is no denying that these are incredible individual performances, but it is hard to see how this correlates to Test cricket. It would be a huge confidence boost, no doubt, but it is a completely different game and requires a different skill set. If the Indian selectors viewed these innings as concrete support for his selection they have erred. The same can be said in their selection of Jaspirit Bumrah.
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Everything About Bumrah’s Selection Is Illogical
Arguably Jaspirit Bumrah’s selection was an even worse call than including Rohit Sharma. There are several reasons why this is this case. Firstly, Bumrah is making his Test debut against a strong opposition and has limited First-Class experience. Bumrah has played only a small number of First-Class matches, just 26 in fact. However, he has risen to fame for his impressive limited overs performances. He first rose to prominence in the IPL, which enabled his selection in India’s ODI and T20 set up. However last year he did not bowl more than 10 overs in a match, bar one Ranji Trophy game in January. It is rather absurd to call someone up to the Test side after a string over good limited overs performances, particularly when Bumrah’s main skill is his yorkers and composure at the death. These skills are hardly necessary in Test cricket.
Furthermore, if India were planning on taking him to South Africa, they could have trialled him against Sri Lanka. That series posed no serious threats to India and would have been a great chance for Bumrah to try his hand at Test cricket and make sure that he is capable of playing at such a level. It is a mystery why India wanted him to wait for this tour to make his debut. Sunil Gaveskar said that Bumrah was a ‘surprise package’ which is rather surprising as most South African players would have faced him before and would not be deterred by his action. India were better off sticking to experience and selecting either veteran Ishant Sharma or the rapidly improving Umesh Yadav.
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