x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

India's Test batting hopefuls remain untested

Rahul Dravid's retirement has meant a vacancy at No 3, and India are now left with the five-match one-day series in Sri Lanka to identify a replacement.

India's batsman Virat Kohli remains the only clear candidate to fill Rahul Dravid's No 3 slot now vacant.
India's batsman Virat Kohli remains the only clear candidate to fill Rahul Dravid's No 3 slot now vacant.

Never before have India played a home Test in August, monsoon season in many parts of the country.

Thanks to the vagaries of this year's schedule though, Hyderabad hosts a game between August 23 and 27 against New Zealand, a full four weeks before the start of the domestic season.

The national side last played a Test in Adelaide at the end of January and there has been no first-class cricket since the Duleep Trophy finished in February.

Rahul Dravid's retirement has meant a vacancy at the most important slot in the batting order, No 3, and India are now left with the five-match one-day series in Sri Lanka to identify a replacement for the man who was for so long the fulcrum of their batting efforts.

The smart option would be to promote Virat Kohli.

He batted at No 6 when he made his first Test hundred at Adelaide, but has made the bulk of his one-day runs from No 3.

Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are likely to be undisturbed at Nos 4 and 5, which means the new or relatively inexperienced face will slot in at No 6.

Assuming that the vacancy is filled from within the squad in Sri Lanka - and it is hard to see how it can be otherwise - then there are four contenders.

The only one with previous Test experience is Suresh Raina, who played the last of his 15 Tests at The Oval last August.

Apart from a sprightly second innings 78 at Lord's, his other seven knocks in England produced just 27 runs.

More than the lack of runs though, Raina's immediate future was sealed by the sheer haplessness of his batting.

The bowlers had targeted his indecision against the short ball, but by the end of the series he was struggling just as much against the full delivery.

Pushed back so far into his crease by the short stuff, he often found himself in no position to play pitched-up deliveries either. Raina played all three Tests the last time New Zealand toured India in 2010, and made just 26 runs from four innings.

If he does earn a recall, it will only be because others on the fringes have not made a convincing case at all.

One of them is Rohit Sharma.

Four years ago, he made an outstanding century in a tour game against the visiting Australians, prompting Ian Chappell to advocate his promotion to the Test side.

That never happened, and Rohit's form waned to such an extent that he didn't even make the 2011 World Cup squad.

Given another chance to impress on a recent A tour of the Caribbean, he was again inconsistent and the feeling persists that he simply does not work as hard for success as someone like Kohli does.

The other two in contention did not play the first one-day game against Sri Lanka.

Ajinkya Rahane averages nearly 64 in first-class cricket and had a couple of impressive one-day innings against England last season.

An unused reserve in Australia, he had a fine Indian Premier League season before flopping against some fiery pace bowling in the West Indies.

Manoj Tiwary also had a poor Caribbean tour with the A side, and has been on the periphery for years now.

In the last one-day match he played for India, he stroked a fine century against the West Indies at Chennai in December. But with opportunities having been so rare in the five years, his name no longer features in most discussions about India's Test-batting future.

The outsider is Cheteshwar Pujara, who made a superb 72 on debut against Australia less than two years ago.

Injury had stalled his progress but with no one having made a place their own in the interim, Kohli aside, he too will be in the fray when the selectors meet in August.

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