MS Dhoni might be better off looking at options other than Ravindra Jadeja to fill the lower middle-order spot. Chitrabhanu R Kadalayil explains why.
No 6 more than just a number in India's Test cricket batting line-up
Who would have thought that four years after his retirement, Sourav Ganguly would be India's most irreplaceable Test batsman?
Cheteshwar Pujara made the No 3 position his, almost immediately after Rahul Dravid bid adieu, and Virat Kohli stepped it up at No 5 not long since VVS Laxman called it quits.
Dhoni currently occupies No 6 even though he is reportedly keeping it warm for Ravindra Jadeja until he evolves into a proper middle-order batsman.
Reason? The India captain wants an all-rounder in the side for balance and sees Jadeja's immense potential.
But the problem is while Jadeja has improved tremendously as a left-arm spinner capable of taking wickets, his batting continues to be a worry. In six Test innings, he has scored just 97 runs. More worrisome, he has not looked comfortable against the quality attacks of England or Australia.
So whether he can perform on the bouncy pitches of South Africa in December-January is questionable.
Harsha Bhogle, the television commentator, wrote in his ESPN column that Dhoni should promote Jadeja to No 6 in Tests right away so he can start to think like a No 6 batsman.
"Players tend to bat in a manner that the batting number dictates," he wrote. "If you push a batsman to No 8 or 9, he will start batting like a No 8 or 9."
That move is easier said than done given the left-hander will be facing Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis.
And Bhogle does not mention that the No 6 is a specialist position allotted to players with the temperament to shift gears when required, and who crucially have the maturity to bat alongside tailenders. The few outings he has had in limited-overs cricket shows Jadeja can smack the ball around, but he does not have technique nor staying power.
That is why the two upcoming four-day Tests between India 'A' and their South African counterparts is attracting interest in the subcontinent.
The Pujara-led touring party has five potential No 6 batsmen – including Raina himself – who all are young but seasoned campaigners ready to be tested in alien conditions.
Rohit Sharma, long touted as India's next great batsman, has played in 102 ODIs and 35 T20s, but has yet to feature in a Test largely because of a tendency to throw his wicket away. That is also the problem with Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit's Mumbai teammate, who disappointed on his long-form debut against Australia in Delhi this year.
They are both exceptional strokemakers, though, with the ability to turn a game around.
As for Raina, the left-hander continues to struggle with short-pitched bowling, but has experience to draw from and has a desire to not be bracketed as a limited-overs specialist, such as in Yuvraj's case. Dinesh Karthik, the wicketkeeper, has grown into a specialist batsman with the patience to craft a long essay. And then there's Ambati Rayudu, who is finally coming to terms with his brilliance and making it count.
India's selectors are yet to zero in on No 6 in all these years, but clearly, the options are there.
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