Murali Kartik was asked at the end of the first Test by broadcaster Star Sports’ host, Mayanti Langer, if he was ready to answer a controversial question. She asked if he thought Mayank Agarwal should play in the second Test in Hyderabad against a struggling West Indies side.
His response was interesting, in the sense that he thought the 27-year-old should but wondered who could he possibly replace? He then said that he had said on air during his Hindi commentary stint that perhaps Virat Kohli himself should sit out. Or KL Rahul was the other like-for-like replacement.
Turns out, neither will happen on Friday as India named an unchanged 12-man squad for the second Test.
It’s obviously a tricky situation for India. Here is a guy who hasn’t been able to stop scoring in the past year and a half or so, is at the prime of career but the situation is such that he still can’t force his way into the playing XI. In the 2017-’18 season, the Karnataka batsman scored 2,253 runs in 36 innings across formats, according to ESPNCricinfo. Agarwal also made a stroke-filled 111-ball 90 in the warm-up game for Board President’s XI against Shannon Gabriel and Co.
Rahul, who got out for a duck in the first over of the first Test and didn’t get to bat again, would feel hard done by if he’s dropped/rested for the second and final Test, given he is still trying to cement his place in the side. Despite being the senior opener in the current setup, Rahul is still in the process of establishing his credentials and justifying the talent he possesses. As bowling coach Bharath Arun said on Wednesday, he is a cricketer who India need to persist with. He has earned the long rope.
In his last 10 Tests (17 innings), Rahul has made 390 runs at an average of 22.94. About Rahul’s indifferent form, Arun said, “Technical weakness as what you perceive, I do not know, but Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Bangar had a good chat with him.
“As a coach, I feel Rahul is an outstanding player with tremendous potential, who should be persisted with. [In Rahul], we have a super batsman in the future for us,” he said.
He avoided the question of Mayank Agarwal’s inclusion in the playing XI.
“It’s not the question of experimenting but the position we are in, we would like to consolidate. We would like to put the best team on the park and I believe anyone in the 16 can play,” he added.
At the other end is Prithvi Shaw, whose century on debut had a feeling of inevitability to it. He took the opportunity he was given, grabbed it with both hands and lived up to the expectations that were placed on him for the debut Test.
And in the mean time, Kohli looked like he was having an extended net session in the middle as he ran his way to yet another Test century, becoming the second quickest to score 24 tons in the longest format after Sir Don Bradman.
As we wrote on these pages earlier, Kohli’s insatiable hunger for runs is an example that others in the Indian batting lineup need to follow. To score runs, irrespective of the quality of the opposition, to make his form count, to make the bowlers and fielders toil – these are aspects that make Kohli the modern-day great that he is.
But, as Kartik wondered, do India get to benefit from more of that in the second Test as well?
It’s a moot point now, but what is still up for debate is whether India missed a trick by not including Agarwal in the lineup for either one of these Tests considering a long tour of Australia is around the corner. With talks of more than one warm-up game being arranged ahead of the tour, he is likely to have his chances to impress there but a chance to add Test runs for India under his belt, in the relatively stress-free situation that this second Test is going to be, is an opportunity missed.
India’s XII for the second Test against West Indies:
Virat Kohli (captain), Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur.
(With PTI inputs)