India was bowled out for 78 on the first day at Headingley and then lost 8 wickets in 63 runs on Day 4. Clearly, batting is an issue right now with the team. While Virat Kohli in the post-match presentation revealed that he has “never believed” in having a sixth specialist batsman and that having the extra batter would be “no guarantee” against such batting collapses, he has in the past selected a team that included that extra batter and four specialist bowlers.
If Jadeja is to be replaced due to his knee injury, it’s his batting that India would like to cover before his bowling. But even if he’s fit, India might consider playing the sixth batter, given the lack of runs from Ajinkya Rahane (who averages 19.00 in this series) and Rishabh Pant (17.40) in particular.
If the sixth batsman is to be picked, then Hanuma Vihari is the obvious choice for it but there’s also the option of shifting KL Rahul – who began the tour as a middle-order option – down the order and picking either Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw to open alongside Rohit Sharma. Vihari is the most likely option since he has proved his mettle before too in Australia and also having Vihari in middle order will give much more stability to the middle order batting line-up.
Drop Rahane and bring in Vihari?
India can keep its preferred team combination of five bowlers and bring in Vihari if they replace Rahane. It would be a big call, since he’s their vice-captain, and an experienced hand who has scored runs all over the world. He has only passed 20 once in this series, but that innings, a second-innings 61 at Lord’s, played a key role in India winning the Test match. It’s not too long ago, moreover, that he made a series-turning hundred at the MCG.
Rahane averages just 26.25 since the start of 2020, but those numbers aren’t good for Pujara(27.56) and Kohli(24.68) too. The fact that India had to bat in difficult conditions and against strong strong attacks during this period can’t be denied. However, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character for India to drop Rahane. They have left him and Pujara out in the past when they’ve felt recent form has demanded it, or if they have noted a technical issue that would be better dealt with in the nets.
Former India cricketer WV Raman too feels that the inclusion of a batsman, who will also bowl a few overs of spin, can be beneficial for Virat Kohli’s side in the remaining Tests in England.
India have just two more tests to play in the series, so there’s not much time to “experiment and fail” now.