India recorded a thumping ten-wicket win against England in the Day and Night Test at Motera thereby taking an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series. The home team tormented the English batsmen with spin and routed them for an aggregate of less than 200 in the match. Nothing short of a win in the final Test at Ahmedabad will leave the hosts satisfied and they need to ensure they do not lose to secure a place in the final of the World Test Championship at Lord’s in June this year.
There are two concerns India needs to address ahead of the series finale starting the 4th of March. One involves the contribution of their Number 5 batsman and the other the utility of Washington Sundar – the batting all-rounder in the XI.
Rahane’s Inconsistency At Number 5
Rahane has produced two noteworthy contributions with the bat in 17 innings since the beginning of 2020 – one, his majestic hundred at the MCG and the other the fine 67 in difficult circumstances and tough conditions in the first innings of the second Test in Chennai where his 162-run partnership with Rohit Sharma defined the match for India. So, in a nutshell one great performance and another fine supporting act. But is this contribution enough from a batsman of the calibre of Rahane? More significantly should India expect more from the crucial Number 5 batting position?
If we exclude the two innings at MCG and Chennai, Rahane has an aggregate of 265 runs in the remaining 15 innings at a batting average of 18.93! He has faced approximately 45 deliveries per innings and spent barely a little over an hour at the crease. That is just not enough time for a Number 5 to build a substantial innings. Rahane’s case is curious because usually when batsmen of his class score big they cash in and make it count for the remainder of the series or at least the next few innings. But that is not happening with Rahane. Post MCG, he scored 22 and 4 at Sydney and 37 and 24 at Brisbane. His 67 in the first innings in Chennai was followed by 10 in the second innings and 7 in the first innings at Motera.
Rahane’s inconsistency is putting enormous pressure on the top 4 and also on the lower-order. India is still doing well as at least one of the top 4 is delivering and the likes of Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin and Washington Sundar are exceeding expectations and performing with the bat. But this cannot sustain for long as if India plays with a combination of 5 specialist batsmen which it often does in India then at least two or three of them have to perform in every match. The team cannot afford the number 5 to produce a substantial performance only once in 9-10 innings.
Washington Sundar’s Role in the XI
Washington Sundar has been a great find for India. He produced a match-changing knock with the bat in his debut innings in Brisbane and followed that up with a classy unbeaten 85 under pressure in the first innings of the series opener against England in Chennai. However, as good as Sundar might be with the bat, he is occupying the place of a bowling all-rounder in the current Indian XI and from what his returns have been so far, the off spinner does not seem to deserve a place in India’s Test XI on the basis of his primary discipline.
Sundar has delivered 76.4 overs in 5 innings and picked just 5 wickets at a bowling average of 53.8 and strike rate of 92. He has neither been able to make the breakthroughs nor kept the batsmen in check – the latter being his standout quality in limited overs cricket. Sundar has conceded at a rate of 3.5 runs per over in his 5 outings for India. His returns with the ball in Test cricket are not good enough for the role of the third spinner. He is expected to play the role of the 5th bowler for India in the match which essentially means to cover for Ashwin and Axar Patel and keep things tight while they take a breather.
He bowled just one solitary over in the second innings of the series opener in Chennai, did not bowl at all in the first innings on a helpful track at Motera and delivered just four balls in the second innings. As good as he might be with the bat at number 7, Sundar cannot warrant a place for himself in the Indian XI unless he can deliver with the ball. India might as well play an extra bowler in the XI.