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Rahane, Pujara under the scanner as new-look Indian batting line-up faces Black Caps test


BENGALURU: When one talks about the India batting department, words like experienced, top-notch, star-studded always come to the fore. However, things are a tad different as India prepare to face New Zealand in the first Test at Green Park Stadium in Kanpur on Thursday.

Of the six specialised batters in the squad, only Cheteshwar Pujara (90 Tests) and skipper Ajinkya Rahane (78) have a good number of games under their belt. Others including Mayank Agarwal (14), Shubman Gill (8) Shreyas Iyer (0) and Suryakumar Yadav (0) lack experience at the top level.

Compare this to the last Test India played against England in September when there was a combined experience of 347 matches among the five batters in the XI. There are several factors, which have forced India to play a relatively inexperienced batting line-up against the Black Caps.

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have been rested for the first game and series respectively. However, the sudden unavailability of KL Rahul, who has been ruled out for both the Tests due to injury, has thrown India’s plan out of the window.  

Keeping in mind the upcoming tour of South Africa, there was talk of Gill being explored as a middle order batter but the management has no option but to slot the Punjab man as an opener alongside Agarwal.

As a result, the door has opened for Shreyas Iyer, who will make his debut, in the middle order. They also do not have the services of attacking batter Rishabh Pant in the series. However, it also provides an opportunity for the reserve players to make a case for selection for future tours too.

“Rahul is not available for two Test matches, he did really well in England. He was in good form. We will miss him but we have guys who can fill that slot, guys who did well for us in the past.

Not too worried about the opening slot,” said stand-in captain Rahane in a virtual conference on Wednesday. "We will also miss all three guys (Rohit, Kohli and Pant). But it is a good opportunity for all the youngsters to play, whoever gets an opportunity to back themselves and play with freedom."

The problem does not end there in the batting department. The situation is not ideal for both Rahane and Pujara, who will also be under pressure to score runs. The duo has come under criticism for their lack of consistency in the last few Test series with the Mumbai man having scored only two half-centuries in his last 19 innings.

Pujara has been dismissed for single digit scores six times in his last seven matches. Even Agarwal, who last played a Test in January, has only managed 180 runs in the last 20 months, where he has played five matches.

With the pitches expected to assist spinners, the India batters will have to be at their best against the slow left-arm spin duo of Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville. Even Mitchell Santer could come in as third spinner. "When we play on spin friendly tracks, it is a challenge even for India batters. As a batsman, once you are in, you have to make a big score.

That is the challenge we face and we accept that. We are not too bothered about it as long as we are winning the Test match and the series," Rahane said.

As far as the Indian bowling is concerned, it looks quite dangerous with R Ashwin, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja in the spin department while Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav's knowledge of Indian conditions makes them a huge threat.