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An Optimal Solution To Team India’s Number Three Hazard In Tests

August 24, 2015

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As the longest resistance exhibited by any Indian at first drop came to an end with the departure of Rahul Dravid, the selectors were supposed to have one heck of a job in their hands to find out a replacement. Surprisingly enough almost immediately they found one and the substitute made an instant impact. The dazzling performances from Cheteshwar Pujara reflected a commendable amount of concentration and determination till the days he batted with an average of 66 plus. But just when almost everyone started to think that he will secure his position at one down for many more years to come, a sudden decline in Pujara’s batting forced them to give their view a second thought. And after a while on finding that his average in recent matches has actually come down to one-third of the earlier, they have realized that it won’t be easy to have a second Rahul Dravid. Hence the biggest question revolving around the Indian team dressing room right now is that who will step into the big shoes of the great Indian Wall.

It is inarguably a very tough question to be dealt with. Multiple options are wide opened, however nobody can guarantee the correctness of a particular choice. That’s why it becomes an even more difficult call to make. Different thoughts force new experiments which do not necessarily pay off. When they don’t, it is likely to bring in yet another change and that’s how the problem grows even bigger. The cumulative process doesn’t terminate until someone succeeds more often than not, which exactly has been the case for team India lately.

Over the decades the number three position has carried its legacy more than any other batting slot. So many greats of the game had their names attached with that particular position. If you look at such names, the most noticeable thing is that they have played most of their cricket as a number three batsman. Apart from an exception or two we won’t find players who have transformed themselves from something else to a truly durable test match #3. This is one of those skills that you can’t really develop. You are either a number three batsman or you are not. The prime matter of discord for the Indian team management is that among the few options we are talking about, not many are there who have that genuine one-down tag. Even if there is a player, there also are reasons that push his chances towards the edge.

Here’s what I feel regarding how it should be and why:

Why the 3 openers should not be at one, two and three

Right now it might seem like there is a healthy competition of the openers going on with all three doing well. However on the apparent note amongst them there is only one whom we can consider as a set opener and you can’t prevent him from taking guard right up the order. Though I won’t be surprised if the ploy of having an opener at #3 is adopted, I am not sure either if that is going to be a long term decision unless KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan establish themselves to a stronger extent. The latter hasn’t been an overseas success in the longer version. What is alarming with him is that he keeps repeating the same mistakes and is more confined to playing at his strength rather than correcting his deficiencies. On the other hand, Rahul is very new to the international circuit and should be given the place to bat which suits him the best.

Moving Kohli from his position makes no sense

One of the reasons why the skipper should continue to bat at #4 is that he hasn’t looked the same player while batting across the different positions. Also if you look at the whole Indian batting line-up, Kohli suits the most for that particular number having a nice blend of offense and defense. Great teams have always had their two best players batting at 3 and 4, ideally defense being the brighter side of the game of the one batting at 3. Kohli’s natural game is on the offensive side and he tends to go hard at the ball and generate his own power rather than playing with soft hands and using the pace of the bowler. It makes him slightly vulnerable against swing asking questions of getting caught behind.

Problem with having Rohit at #3

If something pushes Rohit Sharma a couple of steps down the order is that his technique is not as tight as what we expect from a test match number three. At times he gets stuck into his crease from where he can neither come forward nor go back, which makes him a strong candidate for leg before. Also he has the tendency of getting exposed while attempting to defend his front leg. However it doesn’t mean that he is not a great batsman. In terms of stroke-play he might leave all his teammates behind him and looks a million dollar till he gets out. It is just that the number three position is not meant to be his and he is likely to blossom more if he is given a go at number five.

Issues that deny Pujara his earlier place

As I said that India don’t have too many players having a genuine test match #3 tag, but Pujara is certainly the one who has it. Unlike Dhawan he can convert his starts to big knocks. He is the more classic and old fashioned between him and Kohli. He is superior to Rohit in terms of tight defense and the bowlers don’t find easy to get through it. Technically I don’t see too much wrong with Pujara and his overall packaging usually fits him at one drop. But India haven’t won anything for the last one year. Hence now they want to play more aggressive cricket and play for results. So there is a definite purpose behind the selection of Rohit over Pujara. Also they are going with 5 specialist bowlers these days so that they can all out the opposition twice in a match, which means one of the batsmen has to be left out. Perhaps that was not the reason why Pujara was dropped from the playing XI. What made the team management to drop him was the way he started getting dismissed during the latter half of his career and it simply didn’t match up to the standards he set in the earlier half.

Rahane must be the #3 batsman for Team India

Having discussed all the above options we are now left with the last one – Ajinkya Rahane. Let’s see whether he satisfies the criteria of being a number three batsman or not:
Is he technically sound? Yes. Is he temperamentally calm? Yes, more than anyone else. Does he score runs under pressure? Fabulously! Many would argue that he is actually a better batsman under pressure. Does he live up to the aggressive ploy of the team management? Effortlessly! Although he is not a naturally aggressive player like Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, yet he doesn’t unnecessarily get into a defensive shell. He is good at piercing the gaps and keeps the scoreboard ticking. Some people may wonder that while he is doing so well at number 5 then why to disturb own position! The answer is that he is the only player who has performed uniformly at every position he has batted till date. Having a shield like Rahane and a sword like Kohli at 3 and 4 respectively will ease the pressure off the batsmen to follow. So does promoting Rahane to the upper middle order solve the team’s purpose? The answer is again, emphatically, YES!

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