There were some unusual sights at the Indian net session. Wriddhiman Saha was giving Parthiv Patel catching practice. KL Rahul was standing next to Cheteshwar Pujara in the slip cordon. Ishant Sharma showed a slight limp but still had a smile while heading towards the dressing room with the physio. Shikhar Dhawan batted late and briefly.
If these were hints for a quiz question about naming the playing XI for the second Test, no lifelines or phone to friends could help you get the answer right. It is getting increasingly difficult to second-guess the choices of the team that can dare to drop Rahane for the opening Test of an overseas series to pursue its belief of backing players in form.
While on Rahane, skipper Virat Kohli said he found it funny how “things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days”. He followed it by saying, “Before the first Test no-one thought that he (Rahane) should be in the eleven and now suddenly people are looking at the other option.”
There wasn’t much clarity about who these mysterious “no-ones” were. Did he mean the others who sit with him to pick the team? Or was he referring to some social media chatter? He went on to add, “We certainly don’t go on opinions that are created outside, and talk of the town and all those sort of things.”
The Indian skipper emphasised that team selection was less about individuals but more about “finding the right balance”.
“If players fit in the kind of balance we want to go in with then they will fit in.”
Finally, there was praise for Rahane. “He’s a quality player, he’s done well in South Africa, all conditions actually away from home. He’s probably been our most consistent and solid player away from home. I explained the reasons why Rohit started ahead of him. I’m not saying that Ajinkya cannot or will not start in this game.”
Somehow, the “will not” bit looked likely and the picture of Rahane in a bib carrying drinks came to mind. The only clarity about the playing eleven went as follows: “Possibilities are all open at the moment and we shall decide after practice.”
Didn’t the batting need a shake up after the two collapses? Expectedly, there was no straight answer but a message that things were under control. “We are in a good space… There is no need to panic.”
These were no hollow words, and at the nets the Indians gave it their all. There were no drooped shoulders, the nets were lengthy and there were long discussions with the coaches.
‘Might do something different’
Kohli had an advice for batsmen and encouragement for bowlers. When it came to the batting unit, there was hint for a possible change, too. “People need to apply themselves much better whether we are playing five batsmen or six. It doesn’t mean that if you are playing six batters, you can afford to go out and play loose shots. You still need to have a solid technique and go out there and be ready to face bowling spells which are going to be difficult.”
This was followed by a line that might have given Shikhar Dhawan a hiccup: “We might do something different.”
The bowlers didn’t need a sermon, it was all praise. “I’m not worried on the bowling front at all. We have been in a very good space and we believe we can get them out twice again in this game.”
The other talk of town at Centurion was the pitch and how it would behave. There were contradictory opinions. South African skipper and local boy Faf du Plessis said he was surprised by the brown layer of grass on the pitch, a sight that was new to him.
Kohli, on the other hand, said: “It looks likely a really lively pitch. Exactly what we expected it to be and we actually wanted it to be that way so that both teams are into the contest provided they play some good cricket.”