India vs Australia KL Rahul
KL Rahul had scores of 32, 38, 0, 10, and 24 before he bludgeoned 199 versus England at Chennai © IANS

In home season, KL Rahul had scores of 32, 38, 0, 10, and 24 before he bludgeoned 199 versus England at Chennai. In his 21 innings, he scored under 40 on 16 occasions. The rest include 4 hundreds and a fifty. Rahul, in all probability, has two sides: he either fires on all cylinders or gets carried away. There is no shadow of doubt that he is armed with a resounding technique, but his hot-and-cold performances have put India in a spot of bother time and again.

Every time Rahul regained fitness, he was picked ahead of the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan, and Parthiv Patel. In their heydays, the trio had taken the world by storm. Gambhir, in fact, was the No. 1 batsman in ICC Test Rankings. Dhawan had his share of good form on Indian tracks, then a century in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Parthiv, more or less, played the role of a backup opener, then at No. 6 of late. However, let us not disregard the fact that Rahul has a hundred in Australia, Sri Lanka, and West Indies. His fourth one, in fact, was monumental, falling short by a run to reach his maiden double-ton against a powerhouse such as England. All this in 13-Test span.

Rahul’s fielding, in addition, gives him an edge over Dhawan, Gambhir, and Parthiv. He can slide in the outfield with utter ease and throw the ball with utmost accuracy. He, in all probability, can do it all day long, without losing vigour. Such is his fitness that he is one of the best athletes in the team that boasts of Virat Kohli‘s agility and Ajinkya Rahane’s swiftness. Moreover, in Ravi Shastri’s words, he has a safe pair of hands. Station him anywhere, and he gets the job done with distinction, even at forward short-leg.

If not in these arenas, he can keep wickets as well, not as well as Wriddhiman Saha, but can get the job done if Saha unfortunately gets an injury in the middle of a contest. That is Rahul: man with many cricketing layers.

Above all, his form in the year 2016, across formats, was unmatched (let us not even consider Kohli in any league). In IPL 2016 he blasted 271 runs at 44.11. He then followed it up with a century on his ODI debut. And 2 months later, he scored an unbeaten 110 off 51 in a T20I against the might of Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, and Andre Russell. No wonder his captain and coach have instilled faith in him.

Murali Vijay scores his routine hundred at the start of every series, remaining the key player at the top-order. All the same, India have retained Abhinav Mukund as a substitute opener, ahead of, again, Gambhir, Dhawan, and Parthiv. Mukund played his last Test in 2011. For that matter, he has not yet played a Test at home. From his 3 Tests in West Indies and 2 in England, he has churned out 211 runs at 21.1 inclusive of a fifty, with a 49 at Lord’s in 2011.

Ever since, Virender Sehwag retired, Gambhir and Dhawan came in and out, and Pujara opened on a few occasions. Come to think of it, having Mukund in the ranks is a blessing in disguise. He ages 27. He has enough experience to his name, scoring 8,548 at 48.5 in 120 First-Class games, including 26 hundreds and 30 half-centuries. He is even a brisk runner between the wickets, keeping him ahead of Gambhir and Dhawan. To put an icing on the cake, he scored 849 runs at 65.3 in Ranji Trophy 2016-17.

All in all, selecting Rahul, Vijay, and Mukund for the opening slot for the Border Gavaskar 2016-17 turns out to be fair and square.

In other news, Rohit Sharma was left out despite him hitting the nets after coming from a thigh surgery. To put things into perspective, India coach Anil Kumble does not opt for a player who has not played at least a First-Class match after returning from an injury. That way, Rohit does not fit the bill, retaining the triple-centurion Karun Nair in the squad.

However, amidst all this, India are certain to miss the services of ace pacer Mohammed Shami. He has not recovered after sustaining an injury in the third Test, continuing with the same seam attack India used for the Bangladesh series: Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

In the list of injured players includes Amit Mishra, giving another chance to chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. As a matter of fact, having off-spinning all-rounder Jayant Yadav in the sidelines, India may not need the Kuldeep’s services.

When Kohli was placed at the helm in the longest format, rarely did he play the same playing XI. There was some change in the side. In fact, he evidenced the fact with his horses-for-courses approach. If the track offers turn, he attacks with three spinners. If hard, he goes full throttle with three seamers, like he did in the one-off Test against Bangladesh. Even before this strategy, he preferred featuring five bowlers. In other words he did not enter the field with the same arsenal, eventually keeping the opposition guessing. However, he retained the squad for the Border-Gavaskar trophy 2016-17, starting February 23.

All in all, it depends on what pitches do the curators dish out at Pune, Bengaluru, Ranchi, and Dharamsala, against a line-up of Australia’s might.

India squad for Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya