Will the Indian middle-order please stand up

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Will the Indian middle-order please stand up

02 Dec 2021 082 Views Yash Mittal

Cricket is the closest metaphor to real life, and, so just like in life, teams and their fans tend to overlook the obvious chinks in their armour when they are winning everything.

It's a natural human tendency, right? When we are doing well, we tend to glorify the good aspects but often overlook our flaws. It's all well and good till we are successful but inability to identify the chinks and nip them in the bud, leaves us vulnerable for future disaster.

This is also true in the case of individuals. While lesser players bask in glory when they achieve something monumental, elite players are always on the lookout to get better.

The hallmark of a great team is that even when they are winning, they make it a point to not get ahead of themselves and are always eager to improve. This quality is what separates elite sides from good sides.

Which brings us to the current Indian Test team. Under Virat Kohli, India have established themselves as the best side of the generation. Their record at home is borderline ridiculous and the side has also performed admirably well overseas.

In the past two years, India have won a Test series in Australia with virtually a second string side, beat England home and away* and have played in the WTC final. Even though they lost the final, they were unarguably the best team over the course of the two-year cycle.

But, are they a perfect team? Well, to be fair, the word 'perfect' doesn't exist in real life. It is all about minimizing your weaknesses and boosting your strengths to the optimum level.

As mentioned above, India has done really well home and away in the last 20 months, but their inability to set right some flaws is threatening to cost them in the long term.

Since the start of 2020, opener Rohit Sharma and the lower-middle-order comprising Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, R Ashwin have been saving Indian batting time and again.

In Kanpur, it was debutant Shreyas Iyer and the lower order that saved the day for the home team.

But the question is how long will India be able to cover up the misfiring middle-order: Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and especially Ajinkya Rahane?

The trio have been the heart and soul of Indian Test batting for over a decade. They have collectively scored 57 centuries between them.

But, out of those 57 hundreds, only one has come in the last 82 innings that the trio have collectively played - 112 vs Rahane at MCG last year.

Cheteshwar Pujara hasn't scored a Test hundred (in his last 40 innings) since January 2019, Virat hasn't scored a hundred since November 2019, and Rahane may well have got the sole ton among the three, but he has underwhelmed for so long either side of that knock that his position has long been untenable in the team.

Rahane is averaging 32 in his last 50 Tests; since that ton at Melbourne, he is averaging just 19.57 in 14 games and his home record is even worse: an average of 35.73, the third lowest of all time among India’s top-7 batsmen.

Apart from the year 2019, Rahane is averaging less than 40 in every calendar year since the start of 2017.

Pujara, on the other hand, is averaging 27.65 in Tests since the start of 2020 and while he has chipped in with crucial 50s in Australia and England, the consistency which Pujara is known for, has been missing in the last 2-3 years.

India's 3,4 & 5 in Test cricket since Jan 2020:


Player
Matches
Runs
Average 
50/100
Pujara
16802
27.65
7/0
Virat
12563
26.80
5/0
Rahane
16683
24.39
2/1


While Rahane has long run out of credit in the bank, Pujara is also walking on a tightrope and he may well be dropped for the Mumbai Test to accommodate the former.

As far as Virat is concerned, the champion cricketer is in the midst of his worst phase in the format. It can be argued that the last two years have seen India play on tough tracks both home and away, but then, doesn't Virat thrive in adversity?

Yes, he has played some high-quality knocks under tough conditions in England, Australia and during the home series against the former, the 33-year-old has struggled to convert them into a big score.

Post this series, India will travel to South Africa for a marquee Test series. With the Proteas boasting of a high quality pace attack and pitches expected to be seamer-friendly, the Mumbai Test is the last opportunity for the senior pros to shrug off the lean patch and return to scoring ways.

If they don't, then a golden chance to win their maiden Test series in the rainbow nation could go up in smoke.

Yash Mittal

Bharat Army Cricket Writer

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