Jittery Indians mulling multiple changes for the do-or-die Test

Net session indicates team management may bring in Parthiv Patel in place of Wriddhiman Saha

By Our Bureau
  • Published 13.01.18
Captain Virat Kohli with Wriddhiman Saha and Shikhar Dhawan in Centurion on Friday, the eve of the second Test against South Africa. While Dhawan is almost certain not to play, Friday's nets suggest that Saha too could be a shock exclusion

Calcutta/Centurion: If Cape Town was challenging, Centurion might prove to be an Everest for Virat Kohli and his men. And for that, the Indian think tank is contemplating changes in the team for the second Test, which begins on Saturday.

Friday’s net session at the SuperSport Park threw up dramatic possibilities. The most striking among them is that the team management is mulling dropping wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, who created an Asian record in the first Test by affecting 10 dismissals in the match, and instead bring in Parthiv Patel.

According to well-placed sources of The Telegraph, Saha neither batted at the nets nor did he practice ’keeping on the match eve. On the other hand, Parthiv had a long net session and practised as well.

While Saha is currently one of the best ’keepers in the world, Parthiv, many think, is a better batsman than the Bengal glovesman.

Till Friday’s net session, it seemed Lokesh Rahul was almost a certainty to make the playing XI. Shikhar Dhawan is set to be dropped and Rahul would have walked in as Murali Vijay’s opening partner. But Friday’s practice session has opened up other possibilities as well. But it is important to note that despite the Parthiv development, one cannot rule out Rahul’s chances. The Karnataka batsman might still get a look in as captain Virat has a lot of faith in his abilities.

Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who was ignored for the Cape Town Test, is almost certain to return to the XI. Though Virat didn’t specify anything in the pre-match media conference, it will be extremely difficult for the team management to overlook Rahane’s stupendous overseas record, especially after the collective failure of the Indian batsmen in the opening Test.

Among the bowlers, Ishant Sharma, who too had a pretty long net session on Friday, may get the nod considering the hard, bouncy nature of the SuperSport Park wicket. It seems to be a toss up between Ishant and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It might sound odd, given how Bhuvneshwar performed in Cape Town, but if India go for a ‘horses for courses’ policy, then Ishant might pip Bhuvi. Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah are better equipped to exploit bouncy conditions than Bhuvneshwar and hence their places in the team appear safe.

As things stood on Friday, there are two possible combinations that Virat might opt for.  In the first, Parthiv opens with Vijay, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat to follow. Rahane will be the No.5, Rohit Sharma at No.6 and Hardik Pandya at No.7. They will be followed by Ravichandran Ashwin, Shami, Bumrah and one between Ishant and Bhuvi.

In the second possible combination, Vijay and Rahul could be the two openers, followed by Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Rohit, Parthiv and Pandya. That is the top eight with Shami, Bumrah and one between Ishant and Bhuvi to follow. If this combination is preferred, Ashwin will have to sit out. Ashwin bowled a total of 8.1 overs in Cape Town and got two wickets in the first innings. With Centurion being even more pacer-friendly than Cape Town, dropping India’s No.1 spinner wouldn’t be termed as madness.

The SuperSport Park wicket is firm and hard. There is grass, though it is brownish in colour. One possible explanation for the grass not being green is that the hot and dry weather in Centurion might have burnt them brown.

Virat’s team is very much like him. They sport confidence even in adversity and would not give up without a fight. There’s a certain swag that defined Virat’s team. It is not that one defeat has defused that swag and so an Indian turnaround cannot be ruled out.

Match starts: 1.30pm IST