Against Aus spin: pressure on Rahul, clarity for Kohli and lunging posers for Rohit in Border – Gavaskar Trophy

The first Test against Australia at Nagpur could pose a plethora of questions to India’s vaunted batting order, with turning wickets testing their techniques and temperaments. Express takes stock of the spin conundrum.

K L Rahul’s future at stake

It might be harsh, but Rahul can’t afford to fail in the first Test; else he might find himself in hot waters for the rest of the series. He will be playing the first Test as an opener but there is no guarantee about the remainder of the series. He has had his issues against pace in the past in helpful conditions due to his tendency to play from the crease and the delay in shifting his body weight according to the demands of the length. But now, his test might well be against the Australian spinners on turners. With some batsmen, their potential approach to the spinners is clear – Pujara will use his feet and try soft hands, Pant will try to attack, Shubman Gill will try to press fully forward or go right back and also deploy the slog-sweep; it’s not quite clear what’s Rahul’s way against spin. Will he try to wear them down or will he be more positive? Over the last few months, he has been facing the heat though luckily for him, he has had backing from his captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid. That support will be severely tested if he fails at Nagpur.

Shubman Gill will play at middle-order at Nagpur and can push for opener’s slot

By all accounts, Shubman Gill will be playing ahead of Suryakumar Yadav in the middle order in the first Test. He is in form and his game against spin is rated highly. In fact R Ashwin rates him as one of the toughest batsmen to bowl to – they have played against each other in domestic cricket.

His batting against spin flourished when the family moved to Chandigarh. He would play at a park outside the Mohali stadium where the older boys would play proper cricket games while the younger lot played in tailored conditions. Read: rough, abrasive pitches. When spinners would bowl, there were no leg-side runs out there and neither could a batsman hit aerial shots.

Indian batsman Shubman Gill batting. (FILE)

“My spin batting developed there. Until then, I would just try hitting them. I began to learn the art of taking singles. I would step out to deliveries and push it around on the off-side for singles. I learnt two things there: Play spin either fully forward, or get well back. Never play from the crease. LBWs or bat-pad-catches would happen,” Gill had once told this newspaper.

Only if India play an extra batsman, will Suryakumar be likely to come into the picture at Nagpur.

But if Rahul fails at Nagpur, and Gill succeeds, they might well push Gill to open in the second Test and have Surya play in the middle-order. Hence, the extra pressure on Rahul at Nagpur.

Srikar Bharat’s great opportunity

On the turners, India would wish to go in with the specialist wicketkeeper in the 29-year old Srikar Bharat. He has nine first-class hundreds and 27 fifties with an highest of 308; and is used to batting against spin.

He had dazzled with his wicketkeeping skills in Kanpur 2021 when he came on as Super Sub against New Zealand. When Will Young edged a very low catch off R Ashwin, Bharat, who hadn’t committed either way, pouched a superb catch, getting his knee down on to the ground. He then took a sharp chance offered by Ross Taylor off a quickish turner from Axar Patel, moving swiftly to his right with soft hands. He then finished off an excellent stumping off the bottom edge from Tom Latham. India would need that kind of skill on turning tracks at home and if he can chip in contributions with the bat, then Bharat can well find himself playing the full series against Australia.

Virat Kohli against spin

There is no pressure on Kohli’s spot but his batting against spin would make for compelling viewing. At this stage in his career, his batting on turners has sprung up as a possible question mark. In recent times, he hasn’t shown a clear method against them. The lack of domestic games perhaps is showing as that would have allowed him to develop a method he can trust. Instead, he has been trying to find it in Tests and has failed against Sri Lanka (at home) and in Bangladesh. He has kept switching his guard (from leg stump to middle) to see what works. He has also got himself in trouble off the back foot, often closing his bat-face and letting the ball spin past the blade. On occasions when he has got forward, he has just lunged ahead a la Ricky Ponting and warmed the palms of close-in fielders. This Australian series would offer his sternest test yet.

Suryakumar Yadav’s chance

Most likely, he might have to wait out the first Test and see if any top-order batsman fails. The word ahead of Test selection was that his Mumbai team-mate Sarfaraz Khan would get the nod but Surya pipped him to the post. In theory, his attacking game could be really handy on turners provided he trusts his game in the longest format. The way he shapes up in the nets and the manner of Rahul’s batting in the first Test could well determine if he gets a chance later in the series.

Rohit Sharma against quickish spin

He has had his issues against legspin in the past but it’s not yet clear if Australia will play the leggie Mitchell Swepson immediately. On his good days, Rohit has shown a willingness to use his feet to both attack and defend. But he has been in trouble when he has just leaned forward without conviction and Nathan Lyon, as he has done in the past against him, would strive to get him lunging into trouble. Quickish turn has been his problem and much will depend on the kind of surfaces that he comes against – whether there will be slow-ish turn or quick.

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