Virat Kohli’s team created history on Monday by becoming the first Asian side to win a Test series Down Under. A batting masterclass by Chesteshwar Pujara and a stellar seam attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma helped ensure the number one ranked Test side finally triumph in an away Border-Gavaskar trophy. While much has been said and written about the core squad of this Indian team, this win against Australia also reflected the strength on their bench and begs to question if team India have the strongest bench strength in World cricket?
It is not very often that a team has the liberty to replace both openers in an ongoing series and achieve the kind of results India did. We saw it earlier in the India England Test series when the home side resisted with their misfiring pair of Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings due to a lack of alternatives. Australia tried to tweak their opening pair by getting Usman Khawaja to open the bat in place of the dropped Aaron Finch, but without much success.
However, team India replaced misfiring KL Rahul and Murali Vijay with Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari to revolutionary effect. Agarwal scored two 70s and a 42 in his three Test innings so far, while his partner successfully negated the new ball to make life easy for Pujara and Kohli. Additionally, it shows the versality of the side to have a traditionally middle-order bat like Vihari, triumph opening the batting.
Secondly, India’s third choice spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who didn’t play a single game so far since his white ball plaudits earlier in December, nonchalantly switched formats to emerge with a fifer at the final Sydney Test. Despite having their premier spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, out injured for the bulk of the series, the team easily replaced him with Ravindra Jadeja in Adelaide and Umesh Yadav in Perth.
Imagine Australia replacing Nathan Lyon or Pakistan replacing Yasir Shah, the team’s overall bowling unit is bound to take a hit but India worked their way around losing Ashwin after the first Test. In addition, several of India’s white ball heroes like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya did not even get a look in for the Test side. Even the injured Prithvi Shaw and Wriddhiman Saha were not too dearly missed by the men in blue which reiterates their squad strength.
In contrast, the Australian side had to persist with their original squad and recall Peter Handscomb for the 4th Test after letting him go only a game prior, showing the lack of options for Tim Paine’s team. Similarly, Sri Lanka and Pakistan also look compelled to stick with their underperforming players due to a dearth of alternatives.
With India, the team seems to have the liberty to tinker with their squad based on the pitch and climatic conditions, with talented players like Kumar and Pandya unable to break into the first team. In addition, several Ranji stars for the next generation like Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Karun Nair etc already seem the finished product to replace the old guard whenever necessary, to ensure a smooth transitioning.
Feature picture courtesy: AFP