Chatter: India's Home Of Recalibration And Markram Waiting > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Chatter: India's home recalibration and the Markram expectation
India's first Test assignment in the 2019-20 home season sees them take on a South African side that certainly doesn't look as strong as some of the previous squads to have visited these shores. Can Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada step up and prove the doubters wrong? Will Rohit Sharma finally nail down a Test spot in his new role? Kaushik and Prakash discuss the talking points ahead of the series.
Q: India are playing a Test match at home after what feels like an eternity. How do they recalibrate in terms of team combinations?
A: It's tricky. KL Rahul may have inadvertently solved their perennial 'do we pick Rohit Sharma in Tests?' dilemma, but they have to move away from their usual five-bowler ploy that Virat Kohli swears by. Unless, he - unfairly - opts to put the 'find of the series' from India's recent tour of Caribbean on the bench once again.
After a middling Test debut [a duck and a half-century] in England, Hanuma Vihari had to make way so Kohli could go with his favourite 3-2 spin-pace bowling combination, which he feels is best equipped to pick 20 wickets, in the last Test series India played at home [against West Indies in October 2018]. But now Vihari comes armed with a lot of runs - most on the tour of West Indies - and is a 'calming effect' on the dressing room, per Kohli himself. Sounds quite undroppable.
Which brings us to the real possibility of India fielding - reluctantly or otherwise - a four-man bowling attack, at least at the start of the series in Visakhapatnam. But considering the weather in India is likely to be more severe on a bowling side, don't put it beyond Kohli and Ravi Shastri to make a batting sacrifice at the first sign of a stutter.
Q: Rohit Sharma, India Test opener. Thoughts?
It is queer, but not very surprising. India see Test match batting pedigree in 32-year-old Rohit Sharma, six years into a start-stop career. But that hasn't stopped them rewarding his sensational limited-overs form with one more dig against the red ball and then one more after that, hoping batting excellence transcends colour of the ball. But after many plays and misses and Hanuma Vihari clicking in West Indies, a middle-order spot for Rohit was no longer tenable. But as luck would have it, KL Rahul's loss of form and Prithvi Shaw's ban opened up a new chapter in Project Rohit - The Test batsman.
If Rohit, a prodigiously talented batsman, can avoid edging the moving new red ball to one of the many fielders in the slip cordon, he can be a second coming of Virender Sehwag. To his advantage, Rohit does have something of a soft landing with the start of this new role coming at home, where he averages 85.4. He has previously displayed abilities to turn corners when his career has reached a proverbial point of no return. However, ever so often, Test cricket has a rude tendency to unmask a dynamic opener, strip him of his powers and parade him around with a sash reading 'walking wicket'. It is a fate that has befallen many others recently, including Jason Roy and Aaron Finch. India's team management though are willing to play the probability game in search of seemingly bigger gains.
Q: Does Umesh Yadav's selection give a fair idea of the current pecking order as far as Bhuvneshwar Kumar is concerned?
No, it's not a reflection of the pecking order as much as it is of the depth in the fast bowling ranks and the variety on offer. But Bhuvneshwar's case is definitely worth a closer look. Even before his recent injury troubles, Kohli saw him as a very conditions-specific bowler in Tests. So much so that even after his six wickets in the Newlands Test of 2018, he was dropped at Centurion (to much criticism) on a very sub-continental looking pitch in favour of "workhorse" Ishant Sharma, capable of holding one end up and and extracting any last drops of juice from a dead wicket in the final session of a day's play.
Bhuvneshwar returned on a spicy green-top in Johannesburg but hasn't played any of the 14 Tests since. He hasn't been at his best, especially after the back injury he suffered ahead of the Tests in England (he could have even played all five there) and has struggled for rhythm and consistency ever since, even in the white-ball formats. He hasn't shrugged off his fitness concerns just yet, having picked niggles at the World Cup and now again post the West Indies series. But that said, given the emergence of the Bumrah-Ishant-Shami axis and the conditions expected at Vizag, Pune and Ranchi, he may not have forced his way into the XI even otherwise.
Q: Is there reason to be excited about Aiden Markram at last?
Why not? He is easily among the most talented of batsmen to come from South Africa in recent times and has started the tour with a lot of promise. He got himself to India nice and early along with a batting group that played the 'A' series. He's warmed himself up with two hundreds - against India A and the Board Presidents XI - and should be buoyed for the sterner Tests ahead. It is almost imperative that Markram comes good, given his position in the batting order (right at the top) and the void of recent high-profile retirements in the South African team. All of 17 Tests old, Markram, a potential future Proteas Test captain, has to live up to the reputation that first did the rounds when he won that 2014 Under-19 World Cup and then a year later when he travelled to India and turned heads during Red Bull Campus Cricket Finals in Dehradun.
Importantly, Markram will carry no scars from the spin travails of the senior squad from four years ago. However, he will be eager to right the wrongs from last year's tour of Sri Lanka - where he aggregated 40 runs from four innings in his only Test series outside South Africa - falling each time to Rangana Herath. Ravindra Jadeja now awaits.
Q: Can Kagiso Rabada fill the Dale Steyn-sized hole?
A transitioning South Africa would love that, wouldn't they? For a fast bowler on this tour, cut from a very different cloth, capable of making a bonfire of the usual assumptions regarding visiting pacers in the subcontinent.
You could say Ahmedabad 2008 and Nagpur 2010 were the sort of fast bowling tutorials from Dale Steyn that separated him from some of his high-performing contemporaries, and laid down one of the highest benchmarks for those aspiring to be all-weather, all-conditions bowlers.
Rabada, at 24, is already one of the finest with the red ball in hand, but there's still some uncharted territory - like the subcontinent - for him to get a grip of, to reach the exalted heights he was always expected to soar to.
Four years since the previous tour, he's no rookie in the red ball game, and will have to shoulder most of the fast-bowling burden in the three Tests where South Africa could even pick just two pacers to ensure they aren't short-staffed with the bat in trying conditions.
Cricket in 2019 has been a lot about fast bowling, without it being so much about Kagiso Rabada. Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer have rightfully earned accolades for all they've done across formats. Rabada's got a chance then, to make a late tweak to the narrative and bring that bowling average in the subcontinent below the 30-mark.
Q: What brings Faf du Plessis to India again?
Faf turned 35 this July, and could've very easily joined Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn in walking away. But that would have meant leaving South Africa to tour one of the toughest places with a severely inexperienced unit right at the start of their Test championship and shove them down a transition vacuum that would've been be very tough to snap out of.
Now that he's made it to India again - despite the horrors of of the previous tour - there's a familiar mountain to climb, channel his 2015-self at No. 4 against another spin strangle, and eventually show the path for the next generation of South Africa's Test cricketers to tread.
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