Explained: Why Jadeja for Kohli is a radical change of selection

Written by Tushar Bhaduri, edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: December 25, 2020 15:18:36

Four changes in a test match team will normally be considered drastic, but the game XI chosen by the Team India think tank for the Boxing Day test match is understandable against the backdrop of Adelaide debacle.

Shubman Gill for Prithvi Shaw, Mohammed Siraj for Mohammed Shami, and Rishabh Pant for Wriddhiman Saha can all be called similar substitutes, but what seems a bit radical is Ravindra Jadeja coming in for regular skipper Virat Kohli. Change the whole dynamics and balance of the side. India seems to be taking the aggressive options for the Melbourne Test which starts on Saturday.

Can a handyman replace the # 1 hitter?

The left arm spinner’s serve has greatly improved in recent times, but it is not expected to contribute to Kohli’s quantum of run. What he brings to the table is a fifth bowling option, arguably the best in the world right now. He won’t be considered a specialist hitter, but he has proven in the past that he can come to the party when the chips are down. And if the MCG pitch is as slow and flat as it has been lately, the extra spin option will come in handy, both as a wicket and containment option.

Gill for Shaw expected

Shaw’s technical shortcomings on the shots he takes a bit were laid bare in Adelaide. Gill is a much more solid and technically proficient hitter, and his game suits Australian conditions well with the extra bounce. He scored most of his first-class runs as an opener for Punjab and a probationary debut was considered long overdue. He could protect the middle order, already missing from Kohli, from the new ball. The locker room will be a quieter place.

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Players of India before a free practice session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. (BCCI)

Is Pant for Saha a bet?

There is hardly any doubt that Saha is the most experienced glove in India, but there is a line of thinking that his skills are in demand more in sub-continental conditions as he stands up against the spinners. The Bengal player is a stubborn hitter who has scored vital points in the past, but Pant has the ability to switch games with the bat in a short period of time. With Kohli absent, team management may have been looking for someone to take the aggressive option and put Australian bowlers under pressure. And Pant is likely to be reliable behind the stumps against the seamstresses. They will keep crossing their fingers so you don’t make mistakes while sticking to the spinners.

Siraj preferred to Saini

This is a forced change. Shami throws a heavy ball and can execute a batting order if he’s in the mood. Siraj is more of a swing bowler who can be effective if there is assistance available. It also has a first class record and better first class than Navdeep Saini, which was the other option for this place. Siraj and Umesh Yadav can be a useful new ball match, keeping Jasprit Bumrah’s threat as the first change. Saini would have been preferred if the pace had been faster.

Finally, what about KL Rahul?

Rahul’s pedigree with the bat is not in doubt. He’s on his third test tour in Australia and he has as many as 100. It also offers team management options: it can keep wickets, bat in center order or even open the serve.

But Rahul has so far only been a wicketkeeper in white ball games, and giving him the big gloves would have been a big risk. As for the opening, he struggled in foreign conditions when the ball went off the straight and Gill was considered the most solid player at this stage. And since Rahul does not throw, he was beaten by Jadeja who could give a real option to take the wicket if conditions are favorable.

That Rahul did not appear in any of the warm-up games prior to the first test, it is evident that he is not quite in the think tank’s scheme of things when it comes to testing.