Any talk about the present Indian cricket team and the monikers, “young”, “exciting”, “promising” invariably come up. Sure, under Virat Kohli, the Test team has a decidedly fresh look around it and new talents have been making their presence felt. But as any good coach or manager knows, there comes a time when you need to sit back and figure out what your strengths are – and then build a team around them.
The debate about the best batsman and bowler in the team currently, seems to be settled at the moment. With his incredible form in all formats of the game, Virat Kohli is undoubtedly the best Indian batsman currently, and a candidate for the best in the world. He has been, consistently and exhilaratingly, scoring runs in different corners of the world without so much a backward glance. Captaincy rests easy on his shoulders and in his hands, Indian batting is in a very safe place.
Leading the bowling stakes is Kohli’s able spearhead Ravichandran Ashwin. Notwithstanding the controversy at the World Twenty20 and Indian Premier League where skipper MS Dhoni came in for criticism for under-utilising him, Ashwin still remains India’s go-to bowler. He shook off all that controversy with outstanding performances, both with bat and ball, in the West Indies series. Ashwin was the only bowler who finished with a single-digit economy rate during West Indies’s fierce onslaught in the first Twenty20 International series on Saturday, and finished with figures of 2/11 in three overs in the second T20I on Sunday.
But now that these two are out of the way: what’s next. If Kohli and Ashwin are India’s best batsman and bowler respectively, who are the two who are second to them? Which also raises another question: why does this question even matter?
The answer: a top-class No. 2 does two things. He inspires No. 1 to work harder to maintain the gap. He works harder to bridge the gap. And everyone else works harder to beat him. All of which helps the team even more.
Jinx, the solid lieutenant
Ajinkya Rahane is our pick. One of the most important reasons is that he has the skills to excel in all the three formats. That gives him a distinct advantage over Rohit Sharma who, despite some brilliant performances in the shorter formats of the game, has not yet booked a permanent place in the Test team.
Rahane has also displayed the tenacity and grit to score tough runs, that too away from home. His second-innings century against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Colombo last year proved vital as India went on to win the Test. Rahane also scored a century in each innings on a treacherous Delhi surface against South Africa in the home series, further proving his worth.
Sure, he continues to remain in-and-out in the Twenty20 team and there are question marks over his capacity to accelerate, but Rahane is a good lieutenant to have. He is a team-man through and through, and has played at various positions in different formats. By now, he has earned the privilege of being the second man on the Indian batting team sheet after, of course, Kohli.
The Shami and Bhuvi show
But when it comes to the bowling, it is difficult to find such a simple solution. India’s two captains have adopted a horses-for-courses approach for the three different formats, and even Ashwin has been the victim. Few of India’s mainstream bowlers play all formats of the game, which means the task of figuring out who India’s second best bowler is becomes considerably tougher.
A strong case could be made for Mohammed Shami. The pace bowler has made a comeback after a long injury break. He was impressive in the Tests against West Indies and showed that the extra bounce he generates makes him a difficult proposition in the Twenty20 format as well. He should be a certainty for the ODI squad as well, barring injury, considering he was India’s leading wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup.
The other Indian bowler contending for the slot is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Bhuvi has talent and he has weapons for all conditions. He showcased his class in the Indian Premier League, where he forged a deadly combination with Mustafizur Rahman for Sunrisers Hyderabad. His match-turning spell against West Indies in the third Test, where he picked up 5/33, indicates that he is no one-trick pony. What he needs now is encouragement and confidence.
Of course, with a long home season about to start, things could change very quickly. Among the batsmen, KL Rahul, especially, has made a fantastic start to his career. Perhaps it isn't necessary to decide who's No. 2, so long as everyone's competing for it.