Virat Kohli is set to return for the Mumbai Test and it will be interesting to see who India drop in the second Test. Debutant Shreyas Iyer smashed a stunning century in the first innings and followed it up with a crucial 65 in the second essay on day four of the first Test in Kanpur. It will now be difficult to leave Iyer out, especially with Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara struggling with the bat.
Rahane managed 35 in the first innings but was dismissed for just 4 in the second. India’s skipper for the first Test is averaging less than 25 in his last 16 Tests and even his career average has now dropped below 40. Meanwhile, Pujara has done slightly better than Rahane but hasn’t scored a single century since January 2019. However, Indian batting coach Vikram Rathour believes that the two senior batters will make important contributions in the future.
"Of course we want our top order to contribute, but the cricketers you mentioned have played 80 and 90 Test matches so they have the experience. Of course to play that many games they must have done well for us. I understand both of them are going through a lean phase but they have played very very important knocks for us in the past, and we are pretty sure they will come back and play more important knocks for our team in the future as well," he said.
The two have been struggling for quite some time now, but when Rathour was asked about how many opportunities they will receive to get back among runs, he said: "I don't think we can put a number to that. That really depends on the situation the team is in, and what the team requires. The captain coming back will happen in Mumbai, I understand. We will get to that point when we reach Mumbai. At this point we are focused on this game. There is still a day to go, and a game to be won. So we are really focused on this game."
So, will Iyer play the next game? "That decision we will take when we land in Mumbai," Rathour said.
The hosts were reduced to 51/5 in the second innings before Iyer and R Ashwin (32) put on 52 runs for the sixth wicket. Once Ashwin perished, Iyer was joined by wicketkeeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha who was struggling due to a stiff neck but still managed to score 61* off 126 deliveries. However, Rathour confirmed that Rishabh Pant is still India’s first-preferred wicketkeeper.
"Unfortunately for Wriddhi, we have an extremely special player, Rishabh Pant, who is the No. 1 keeper for the team, who has done extremely well for us in the past two years. That's the role Wriddhi has at the moment. He is there whenever we need him. Whenever Pant is not there. Again he showed today with the knock he played today that how important he is and how good he is."
The batting coach said they had only one advice for Iyer -- to back his natural game and not do anything different just because he is playing a Test match. "It's always exciting when a debutant comes in and scores a hundred and that's very special. I thought he looked even better in the second innings, all credit to him. It's exciting as a support staff to see somebody walking in and doing it for the team. He showed he is a confident young guy, uses his feet very very well against spin."
The coaching staff over the past two years during Ravi Shastri's regime has been devoting lot more time towards nurturing the batting prowess of number 9,,10 and 11 and that has been yielding results now.
"This is a deliberate effort from our side that we have been trying to give them lot more batting whenever we are having nets. That's what we have done for couple of years and that strategy is paying off. We have seen in the past and what other teams have done against us and other teams have put up totals after we have taken 4-5 wickets. So good to see we are doing that now and doing it repeatedly," he signed off.
(With inputs from PTI)