Poor selections cost India dear

Poor selections cost India dear

Picking Dhawan, Rohit ahead of Rahul and Rahane proved crucial

Poor selections cost India dear

Form is temporary, class is permanent. This is a time-tested adage in sport -- more so in cricket -- that the Indian team management decided to overlook while picking the playing XI for the first Test which they lost inside three days (excluding the washed out third day) here on Monday.

The team management may call it a bold move but the selection of an in-form Rohit Sharma ahead of the more accomplished Ajinkya Rahane for the No 5 slot and preferring Shikhar Dhawan over K L Rahul, who has been amongst runs but hasn't managed a big innings in the last nine Tests, for the opener's job was always going to be a gamble.

Having been humbled 0-3 in India on turning tracks, South Africa weren't going to be kind to the tourists, especially at the start which generally sets the tone for a series. In fact, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis wasn't coy in admitting that he did demand some extra spice in the pitch.

India too knew very well that they would encounter pitches where pace, bounce and lateral movement will be in excess and the team selection should have been done keeping in mind these factors rather than the runs which have largely come on rather easy batting surfaces against some ordinary attacks. If form was the sole criterion to pick the players, as skipper Virat Kohli insisted on Monday after the 72-run loss, then Karun Nair shouldn't have been dropped right after he became only the second Indian to slam a triple ton in 2016. Does the policy change because there is a different team management now or does it depend on who the player is in question?

"Rohit has scored runs in the last three Test matches that he has played, and he was batting well, even in the series against Sri Lanka," offered Kohli when asked about the logic behind Rahane's exclusion. "We did that similar thing in the past with Shikhar as well. Look, these things can always be looked at in hindsight – thinking what if or what if not. But we decided to go with this combination and current form was definitely the criterion," he emphasised.

It didn't help either Rahane or Rahul's cause that the former has had an ordinary series against Sri Lanka at home while the latter's last three-figure score (199 against England) came in November 2016 though he does have nine fifties in the last 12 Test innings.

Rohit and Dhawan, who have stacked up runs in the sub-continent across formats, are also game-changers and of that, there is little doubt. They score big and do it in a  brisk manner, often setting the agenda for the game. That said, one should also keep in mind their record against bouncing, seaming and swinging ball (see stats box). While it's true that most of the batsmen, from either side, struggled in the difficult conditions to bat here, Dhawan and Rohit looked clearly out of their depths. It was a pain to watch the two, who mercilessly butcher bowling attacks in familiar conditions, go through the ordeal they were put through by the South African quicks in both innings.

While Dhawan's selection appeared a certainty once he declared himself fit two days before the Test here, Rohit's inclusion was baffling because Rahane has been India's finest batsman outside the sub-continent. Where Rahane averages almost 70 runs in South Africa, Rohit fares poorly in comparison at 11 runs an innings. This gulf ought to have been taken into consideration before the powers that be decided to omit Rahane. You can argue Rahane's runs here came three years ago but then he hasn't always performed consistently in sub-continental conditions where he struggles to force the  pace on slow pitches. He needs pace and bounce in the wicket to play his strokes and that explains why his performance – whether Australia, England, New Zealand or South Africa – has been better than any of the current Indian batsmen.    

Similarly, Dhawan too has stacked up runs against Sri Lanka both at home and away, nudging out Rahul in the hierarchy. While Rahul's sample is limited, just four Tests outside sub-continent, anyone with a  casual interest in the game knows the Karnataka batsman is better equipped, both technically and temperamentally, to tackle these conditions.

To twist an old English proverb, what's good in sub-continental conditions need not be good outside of it and vice versa and with Centurion expected to offer even more pace, it remains to be seen if the team management sticks with Dhawan and Rohit.

 

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