When India announced their playing XI for the first two Tests against South Africa, there was one notable omission in the list. Ajinkya Rahane, who has scored runs at an average of 69.66 in his last South Africa tour back in 2013-14, was left out and it didn’t take long for cricket experts and fans to question the move.
The murmur concerning Rahane’s exclusion amplified even more with the world No. 1 Test side conceding an unassailable 2-0 lead to the Proteas. However, India’s chief coach Ravi Shastri still believes that it was a well thought out decision given Ajinkya’s miserable form in 2017.
Rohit, who has done reasonably well across all the three formats in India’s last home season, was preferred over Rahane in the playing XI in Cape Town and Centurion. Sharma though couldn’t quite prove his worth against the fiery Proteas pace attack as he managed to aggregate only 78 runs in 4 innings at a miserable average of 19.50.
“Right from the beginning, there was no doubt in the mind of the team management that Rohit was the batsman in form while Ajinkya was struggling, not just on the field but in the nets too. Rohit was averaging more than 200 in Tests and had scored around 1200-odd runs in ODIs. So, what does the team tell him? Your runs don’t matter because that’s how it works?,” Shastri was quoted by Times of India as saying.
“Performances count and that makes this whole talking point a no-brainer. We all know what Ajinkya is capable of, but before coming here, he was averaging about 30 all through 2017,” he further elaborated.
The 55-year-old also explained the reason why Rahane was brought back into the side.
“Sometime during the Centurion Test, Ajinkya was getting back into his rhythm. He was knocking well in the nets and Rohit was struggling, so we decided to do whatever looked better at that point in time and Ajinkya was in the eleven. And he scored at the Wanderers,” Ravi said.
Featuring in his first Test series, India speedster Jasprit Bumrah claimed his maiden five-wicket haul in the third Test at Wanderers and led a foundation for India’s historic 63-run victory. Observing Bumrah from the close quarters, Shastri said he proved to be the surprise package for us.
“Bumrah was our surprise package coming here and did it work? Of course. Tell me the last time a bowler has delivered so confidently on debut and has been learning so quickly. He was among the most consistent. In Cape Town, he bowled us back into the Test from where we could have won. In Johannesburg, he was simply intimidating,” Shastri opined.
“People want to say a lot of things, but where are these people now?” he added.
India’s team management was also scrutinized for benching the in-form pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar for Ishant Sharma in the second Test at Centurion. Shastri though justified the decision saying that Ishant was more suited for that particular pitch.
“We knew Bhuvi had to be played at the Wanderers and in fact, given the Centurion wicket – it had nothing for pace bowlers, leave alone swing – we knew Bhuvi would be fresh for the third Test. Ishant bowled beautifully in the first innings at Centurion, he got us both, AB & Faf and what a tireless effort it’s been from him,” India’s head coach concluded.