India's team selection for the final Test at Sydney has been thrown completely out of gear following the shock announcement of MS Dhoni that he is retiring from Tests with immediate effect. While Virat Kohli was always being pitted as the man to lead India in the near future, it remains to be seen how ready he is to deal with the sudden twist in the tale. At Adelaide, he was aware well in advance that Dhoni was unfit, and hence he had to lead the side. But, he has had only few days to prepare as leader going into Sydney. It would be really interesting to observe how he deals with the situation.
There are many worries for India as they head into the final match at the SCG. Yes, they have already lost another series away from home, adding to their list of woes, but they would still be keen to avoid a 3-0 loss. A victory seems like a far-fetched dream for India at the moment, but a 2-1 scoreline would undoubtedly make India feel a lot better. It is a fact that India have competed in all three Tests do far, but have failed to deliver at key moments, thus losing all the advantage they had gained. With Dhoni gone, and a couple of others struggling, the Indian think-tank would have to break their heads hard to put together a competitive eleven for Sydney.
The troubles for India begin right at the top in the batting department. Shikhar Dhawan was retained for the third Test on the back of his 81 at Brisbane, but he clearly has not figured out a way to score runs away from home. Like in England, this has been another eye-opening tour for Dhawan. He has literally found it impossible to survive again Ryan Harris, who has kept troubling him with that impeccable line outside the off-stump. At Melbourne as well, he fell to his nemesis. India would clearly be in a quandary over what to do with the opening spot. Dhawan has been given numerous chances, but has just not delivered.
The woes at the top have become manifold for India with the failure of Lokesh Rahul, who made an utterly embarrassing debut at Melbourne. Rahul played two utterly inexplicable shots in both innings to be dismissed cheaply. One can understand that he was nervous, but he still had luck on his side, and refused to make use of the chances. In the first innings, he was dropped going for a slog, and yet he played another poor stroke to get out next ball. In the second innings, he was promoted to number three only to throw it away with another T20 stroke. Rahul must realise that playing for the country is a rare honour that very few get.
Looking at his shot selection, Rahul will probably be dumped for Sydney. But, considering Dhawan has been faring equally poorly, India should risk Rahul for one more Test, at the top of the order. It is important that some experienced players in the side go and speak to him, and explain how tough things are in Test cricket. He just cannot throw things away so easily. The strokes he played at Melbourne reeked of overconfidence. But, he clearly must have realised by now that Test cricket is a much more tougher place to be in than Indian domestic cricket. To survive here, you need monk-like patience. Does Rahul possess the same?
--By A Cricket Analyst