The Indian team’s tour of South Africa will be all about Rohit Sharma’s ascendancy as the national white-ball skipper along with the additional responsibility of being the vice-captain of the Test team that will take on the Proteas in a three-match series starting December 26.
That Ajinkya Rahane will be losing vice-captaincy was clear after the tour of England and once he was dropped from the playing XI against New Zealand in his hometown Mumbai on pretext of a mysterious hamstring niggle, the writing was on the wall.
Rohit’s elevation as Kohli’s red-ball deputy is an indicator that in near and not distant future, the stylish Mumbaikar might just be seen as an all-format skipper.
PTI, on December 3, had mentioned that Rahane’s Test vice-captaincy was in jeopardy with Rohit likely to succeed him.
Rahane’s position in this team had become untenable for the longest time as his only significant contribution in the last two years was a hundred in India’s victory against Australia in Melbourne during the Boxing Day Test.
The series which he won as captain should have marked his return to form but he endured a rather massive slump in form with his average in 2021 across 12 Tests being below 20.
One of the reasons that Rahane has been able to keep his place is because new coach Rahul Dravid would like to give him a long rope before moving on and South Africa series could well be his last at the international level if he doesn’t perform as per expectations.
“One of the reasons for Rahane being able to keep his place is the fact that even Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are not scoring runs for a long time. It would be grossly unfair to just target one player when two others have also been in equally horrendous form.
“Obviously Kohli is in a different league but for Rahane and Pujara, South Africa will be their last chance,” a senior BCCI official told PTI on conditions of anonymity.
He said that Rahane is very unlikely to start in the first Test at the Centurion from December 26.
“If the vice-captain is not a sure-shot starter then how could he remain in that position,” he added.
The other reason that helped him retain his spot was Shubman Gill’s shin injury that has resurfaced after it made him miss the England away series post the World Test Championship.
Gill, with his positive intent, is being seen as an enforcer along with Shreyas Iyer in the middle-order.
The Indian selectors and especially Rohit, who will have an increasing say in the Test side, wouldn’t want a lineup where one has a Pujara at No.3, a Rahane or Vihari at No.5, all of whom players of same mould, who can’t take the attack back to the opposition.
Ravindra Jadeja will be missed
If there is one thing that India will miss in South Africa, that’s the absence of Ravindra Jadeja the all-rounder, who lends that balance at No.7 in the away Test matches with a left-handed batting option. Jadeja is out with a right forearm injury.
Jadeja’s batting in away Tests has been crucial for India along with his superb fielding and wicket-to wicket restrictive bowling which also helps the over-rates.
Worse, even his like for like replacement Axar Patel has a similar injury and is out of the tour.
However, in his absence, Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to lead the spin attack and Jayant Yadav will be the second spinner.
But there is an interesting player in stand-bys list and that is Uttar Pradseh’s Saurabh Kumar, a left-arm spinner and left-handed batter who is currently in South Africa with the A squad.
He is being rated very highly and one shouldn’t be surprised of he makes it to the main squad during the upcoming tour itself.
Ishant Sharma gets one last chance
The out-of-form Ishant Sharma is being given one last series to get his form back but it will be very unlikely that he would be preferred above Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav, who on form are the best of the lot.
If Ishant doesn’t get a game here, it could well be the end of the road for the Delhi man as the next series at home is against Sri Lanka where the team is unlikely to need him.
Squad: Virat Kohli (Capt), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant(wk), Wriddhiman Saha(wk), R Ashwin, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohd. Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Md. Siraj.
Standby Players: Navdeep Saini, Saurabh Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Arzan Nagwaswalla.