The fight to win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will begin in under a month’s time, when India and Australia play in the Day-Night Test at Adelaide from December 17.
However, the series will be a curtailed one for regular skipper Virat Kohli, who will leave the team for India after the first Test and while it is still unknown who will lead the team in his absence, it will be interesting to see how his departure shapes the team.
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Coming back to the series, the last time Kohli was not part of the Test XI, India trounced Afghanistan at home, when Ajinkya Rahane captained the team. In that match, India opted to play KL Rahul at three, and had Hardik Pandya as the seam bowling all-rounder, who would bat at seven. This time around, India does not have that luxury. The squad has plenty of batting options, but who will be the right man to fill the hole will be the million-dollar question. As things stand, the top-three seems settled with Mayank Agarwal partnering either Prithvi Shaw or Rohit Sharma if he makes the cut.
Cheteshwar Pujara will come in at three and Rahane may walk in at four. Then starts the musical chair. Hanuma Vihari has shown promise in his short career so far, but has done so at number six. A promotion at five could add a bit more responsibility on his shoulders, but how will he be able to stand up to it will hold key. Another option for India could be to hand Shubman Gill his Test debut, get him at five and have Vihari at his usual spot. If Indian top-order put the runs on the board and Gill walks in late in the day, then his experience of playing the new ball in domestic cricket could come handy.
KL Rahul will feature in the ODIs and T20Is before the Test matches and if he gets good scores beside his name, then he could be in contention for a middle-order spot as well. An out-of-the-box idea could be to have two wicket-keepers in the XI. If Australia selects Mitchell Swepson in their team, India could look at playing Rishabh Pant at five and have Wriddhiman Saha keep wickets and bat at seven. It is an idea that they will not immediately consider, but it is certainly not one they should ignore.
Kohli’s absence in the last three Test matches will be a blow for India, but that also provides an opportunity for others to stand up and deliver. It is unusual for the team to tour a country two years after they last went there and one does not know when they would travel next. For some in that bracket, this could be their last chance to create a lasting memory.
There is also a chance that Shreyas Iyer might be given an opportunity as he might fly in as a backup for Rohit Sharma. India might also need to go in with 7 batsmen which might be the mantra in the absence of their captain which might be a massive sacrifice considering Kohli and his men have loved to attack with 5 bowlers in the recent past. Things could be different if they win the 2nd test match without Kohli which might give them the confidence to play the extra bowler.
India’s likely playing XI minus Virat Kohli: 1. Mayank Aggarwal, 2. Prithvi Shaw/Rohit Sharma, 3. Cheteshwar Pujara, 4. Ajinkya Rahane, 5. Shubman Gill/ Shreyas Iyer 6. Hanuma Vihari, 7. Wriddhiman Saha, 8. Ravichandran Ashwin, 9. Mohammed Shami, 10. Navdeep Saini/Ishant Sharma, 11. Jasprit Bumrah.
Do you think this Kohli-less XI will be able to defeat the Aussies? Then find a betting site and place your money on this outcome. You will earn a nice reward if Team India can pull home a victory.