Rohit needs to rectify 5 mistakes to ensure India's final frontier dream doesn't turn into nightmare
India vs South Africa: Rohit Sharma needs to rectify these five things to make sure India's final frontier dream in South Africa doesn't turn into a nightmare.
When the ODI series got over, India, with about 50 frontline cricketers in South Africa, would never have imagined that their final frontier dreams would be dashed in a little over two and a half days. With the majority of the first-XI players either resting or injured, a young Indian side under Suryakumar Yadav (in T20Is) and KL Rahul (in ODIs) did quite well in the white-ball leg of the South Africa tour. The T20I series finished 1-1 while India won the ODIs 2-1. Naturally, the return of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, and Mohammed Siraj for the two-match Test series, made the dream of winning the first-ever Test series in the Rainbow Nation more achievable than ever before.
Moreover, the South African side didn't look as menacing as the past ones. Their batting line-up had a debutant and at least three out-of-form players. The bowling pretty much rested on Kagiso Rabada alone. India, on the other hand, had the most exciting mixture of youth and experience in their squad. With the 'A' tours going on simultaneously, they even had the luxury of calling up anyone if there was an injury concern.
Despite all this, India lost the first Test in Centurion by an innings and 32 runs - one of their heaviest overseas defeats in the last five years. It was also their fourth straight loss in a SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) country in this format. For a team, that prides itself on its performance away from home, that was nothing short of alarming.
The Indian team has now reached Cape Town for the second and final Test of this tour. Newlands is a venue where they have suffered six losses and have nothing to show for in the wins column. Selection headaches, dubious form of the batters and the bowlers lacking control; captain Rohit Sharma, therefore, has his task cut out to make sure, India's dream of winning a series in South Africa doesn't turn out to be a 0-2 nightmare.
Rohit's own form: For starters, Rohit really needs to start scoring in South Africa. Before the beginning of the series, the Indian skipper averaged 15.37 in four Test appearances in South Africa. In the first Test, when South Africa humbled India, Rohit scored 5(14) and 0(8) in the two innings. After the first Test, his average has hit an all-time low of 12.80 in 10 innings with 128 runs to his name. The experienced right-handed batter's best score on South African soil remains 47.
Picking the right XI: To be fair to Rohit, this is a tricky one. In the past, India have always had problems of plenty but this time around, with no Mohammed Shami or a quality Test batter to fall back on, Rohit looks short of options. Prasidh Krishna and Shardul Thakur were below average. Shreyas Iyer looks bereft of answers in front of the short-pitched deliveries. Shubman Gill has not scored in SENA countries. But Rohit doesn't have many players to replace them. The only call he needs to make is whether to pick two spinners Ashwin and Jadeja, who is fit to play, or go with four medium pacers. If he chooses the latter, will he stick with Prasidh and Shardul?
Get over Shardul: Rohit has a fascination with picking a player who can bat at No.8. Under current circumstances there is only one cricketer who fulfils that criteria - Shardul Thakur. But the right-arm medium pacer has nothing to show for a fourth seamer. Leave aside the seven-wicket haul during their last tour to South Africa, Shardul has been pretty flat in overseas Test. Moreover, his ecnomoy rate of close to 4 runs an over is also a big concern on pitches where run-scoring isn't supposed to be the easiest of tasks. India would be better off playing a frontline seamer or even a spinner for that matter who would at least be able to tie one end if not get the breakthroughs.
Rotate the bowlers well: There is a pattern to Rohit Sharma's Test captaincy. He tends to bowl his best bowlers in tandem. That is the perfect ploy if you have at least four bowlers of similar calibre. But here, India there is a huge gulf between Bumrah and the rest. Obviously, Siraj is one of India's best but without the cushion of Shami, he looks less threatening. What can Rohit do then? Simple, instead of opening both ends up after a spell of Bumrah and Siraj, he can rotate them better to make sure the pressure is always on, at least from one end. When Prasidh and Shardul were leaking runs in Centurion, he should have used Ashwin more to hold on end up and allowed Siraj and Bumrah to bowl short spells from the other end. This is something Ajinkya Rahane did quite well during the Australia tour when India missed many frontline pacers.
Aggression, where art thou?: Rohit has never been an in-your-face kind of character. He has his own way of handling things. But in a Test match, when things are not going your way, the team could do with some aggression from their captain. He doesn't need to look too far for inspiration. Virat Kohli is the ideal man to let it rip and make something happen when nothing seems to be happening.
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