Dubai: Dual role has its advantages and disadvantages. While it gives a team the depth and more options in whiteball cricket, Tests are for specialists. That’s the demand of the game. While India’s makeshift wicketkeeper KL Rahul has been doing a reasonably good job in Tests in recent times, it’s not an easy task in Indian conditions, where the ball spins viciously. A dropped catch or a missed stumping could come back to hurt the team heavily.
India head coach Rahul Dravid said that Rahul will not assume the wicketkeeping duty in the five-Test series against England, commencing in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Rahul was the designated wicketkeeper during India’s Test series against South Africa in December-January, but now Dravid expressed the need for a more specialist keeper, which will now be between KS Bharat and uncapped Dhruv Jurel.
A sensible move. Standing close to the stumps, there is hardly any reaction time for the wicketkeepers, who will have to trust their instincts. With Rahul keeping occasionally, it would be prudent to not let him keep wickets against the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel. Also, in the absence of Virat Kohli, who has withdrawn from the first two Tests due to personal reasons, Rahul lends the stability to the middle order. An injury to Rahul could leave a gaping hole in India’s batting.
“Rahul will not be playing as a wicketkeeper in this series and we are clear about that in the selection itself. We have picked two other wicketkeepers and obviously Rahul did a fantastic job for us in South Africa and really played a big part in helping us draw the series. But considering five Test matches and playing in these conditions, the selection will be between the two other keepers we have,” Dravid told a press conference in Hyderabad on Tuesday.
Despite not making significant contributions with the bat in five Tests, Bharat’s extensive experience as a wicketkeeper in first-class games in India, along with his impressive unbeaten 116 against England Lions in the first four-day match for India ‘A’ at Ahmedabad, makes him a strong contender for the wicketkeeper’s role.
Bharat served as India’s wicketkeeper in the home series against Australia in 2023, as well as in the World Test Championship final in June.
India will be wary in the first two Tests after missing Kohli, who has emerged the leading run-scorer for the Men in Blue during the drawn two-Test series in South Africa. Mohammed Shami, who is nursing an ankle injury, continues to be unavailable for selection. However, the Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj have successfully spearheaded the pace attack.
Speaking about Kohli, Dravid said: “He’s a phenomenal player. Any team will miss a quality player like Virat, there’s no doubt about it. His record speaks for himself and his presence is a huge boost to the side. But having said that, it just presents another opportunity for somebody else to be able to step up and put in some performances,” Dravid added.
India have not lost a Test series at home in more than a decade, but that formidable record will be under threat when Rohit Sharma’s side take on England.
Ben Stokes returns from knee surgery to skipper the side under coach Brendon McCullum, with the pair ready to unleash the ultra-aggressive approach, which has injected new life into the Test format.
England have not lost a Test series since the duo took charge in 2022 but beating India in India, which former Australia captain Steve Waugh famously called the “final frontier”, remains the toughest challenge in the game. The big question hanging over England is that, will the visitors be successful playing “Bazball” cricket on the spin-friendly pitches.
India, who are currently second in the standings, are playing their first home series of the World Test Championship (WTC) cycle 2023-25.
“We can’t focus on the World Test Championship at this stage. We are focusing more on this series and particularly in this Test match. We have got to play what’s in front of us. I don’t want to think so far ahead. There is a lot cricket before we can think of WTC, but we know that we are up against a very strong team who have played really good cricket in recent times,” Dravid concluded.
— With inputs from agencies