New Delhi: Less than three days after the drama of day five at the Wankhede, India and West Indies get back to business in Cuttack, for the first of five ODIs. India will believe they have the momentum after winning the Tests 2-0, but West Indies can take plenty of pride and confidence from the way they fought on Sunday at the Wankhede. That draw will have felt like a win and how they channel that feeling into the ODIs could prove pivotal as West Indies aim to depart India with a share of the silverware.
While we can assume several key match-ups between the two sides, what could prove interesting is the way in which India’s young middle-order batsmen compete within themselves. Yuvraj Singh’s exclusion from the Test squad means that in Australia, three men will be vying for one spot. Virat Kohli has put himself into pole position after twin fifties in the Mumbai Test, but there is plenty of healthy competition from two of his team-mates, Rohit Sharma and Ajinyka Rahane. Should the pair make the most of their opportunities in the ODIs, they could present India’s management with a few dilemmas.
The selectors have made it clear through their decision-making that form, not the past, is their guiding factor even if it is the 50-over format. Kohli has forced his way into the Test squad on the basis of a stellar run in ODIs this year – 1138 at 45.52 – while Rahane’s success in the same format – 340 runs from ten innings – was surely a factor in his selection. Rohit, was in the ODI squad for the England tour after a Man-of-the-Series role in the West Indies this summer before injury cut short his trip. He is back in the frame after consecutive centuries for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, but no doubt his ODI pedigree would have counted.
Of the three, Kohli and Rohit are almost certain to be in the playing XI on Tuesday, while Rahane can expect to get his chance later in the series. Right now, Kohli is seen as a No. 6 Test batsman with the ability to absorb pressure and change gears. His innings of 63 on day five in Mumbai showed this and though he failed to see his team home, he and India can derive much from his temperament. The speed with which he has cemented his place in the limited-overs team and now grabbed his Test opportunity speak of his desire and commitment.
Rohit, 24, has made strides in showing his detractors that he is almost the complete batsman his talent shows he can be. Now he is one step closer to fulfilling his dream of playing in a Test. This is his third appearance in the Test squad, after touring Sri Lanka in 2008 and as a replacement for VVS Laxman against South Africa in February 2010. He was due to debut in Nagpur but injured an ankle while playing football on the morning of the match.
Rohit has, in between chances in India’s limited-overs squad, enhanced his reputation with consistent scores in domestic cricket. In 2009-10 he scored 527 runs at 87.33 and last season he made 732 at 122. In 2009 he achieved an unbeaten triple-century and in 2010 an unbeaten double. He appears to have shed the cloak of inconsistency and a string of consistent shows he’s back in line for a Test debut.
Rahane, 23, made his limited-overs debut after four solid seasons for Mumbai. Despite consistent returns he saw several players leapfrog him into the national side on the basis of meteoric IPL performances. In 2010 he piled up 809 Ranji runs only to see the selectors pick Cheteshwar Pujara - Rahane's closest competitor in scorching the domestic run-charts - for the home Test series against Australia in 2010. Undeterred, Rahane plugged away and was called up for the Twenty20 and ODIs in England this year.
He has done enough to merit a place in the Test squad. With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir present it is unlikely that India will push Kohli down from No. 3 to accommodate Rahane in the upcoming ODIs. But they will want him to get a hit before Australia, so it’s safe to say Rahane will come into the picture at some point.
The other contender, Suresh Raina, was part of the Test squad in England but was dropped after managing just 105 runs in eight innings. Having lost his place, he will hope that a recall in the near future will help him state his case again. Raina has always looked more comfortable in India blues, a batsman who believes he is on top of his game and able to get the best out of himself. In whites he has often appeared like a player unsure of what the best way forward is, and this has been mostly because of problems against short-pitched bowling.
Raina’s challengers are as much in the head as technical. Raised on a diet of limited-overs matches, he has struggled to cope with the red ball in testing conditions. He now needs to score plenty of runs in limited-overs cricket and in domestic cricket to get back into the Test squad. His returns against England in ten ODIs – five home, five away – will have given him some confidence and a solid series here is the way forward.
Pujara, who sparked on Test debut against Australia, is not in the reckoning for Australia after not proving his match fitness, but he is definitely in content_cnion to replace Dravid or Laxman in Tests. Some ways down the line, there is Bengal’s Manoj Tiwary who has been in good form this Ranji season – two centuries, including a career-best double - and is a part of the ODI squad.
Among themselves Kohli, Rohit, Raina, Rahane, Pujara and Tiwary have strong and talented competition. That can only be good for India.