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Top-order worries remain as India eye another big win in Cheteshwar Pujara's 100th Test

Updated on: 16 February,2023 10:34 AM IST  |  New Delhi
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KL Rahul's prolonged run of failures remains a worry but India will still start as overwhelming favourites for another three-day finish when they take on Australia in the second Test here from Friday

Top-order worries remain as India eye another big win in Cheteshwar Pujara's 100th Test

India's Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja during a practice session ahead of the 2nd Test match against Australia, at Arun Jaitley stadium, in New Delhi on Wednesday (Pic Courtesy: ANI)


KL Rahul's prolonged run of failures remains a worry but India will still start as overwhelming favourites for another three-day finish when they take on Australia in the second Test here from Friday.


The match will be one of Indian cricket's understated warrior Cheteshwar Pujara's 100th Test, a feat achieved after 13 years of sweat and toil.


While Pujara would like to savour the momentous personal milestone with a 20th Test ton, one can't but paper over the concerns around India's top-order.


Save skipper Rohit Sharma, who was regal in attack and classical in defence during his hundred on a slow turner in Nagpur, the others failed to get going in the opener. Besides Rahul, the list of strugglers includes the peerless Virat Kohli and, to an extent, Pujara.

Kohli is leaving no stone unturned to up the ante while facing the spinners. Round two of Kohli versus Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy could be equally enticing.

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Rahul and his woes

Time is running out for Rahul as Virat Kohli's heir apparent, Shubman Gill, is waiting in the wings despite being in prime form.

Having wasted so many opportunities in his 46-Test career with a below par average of 34, it will be interesting to see what call is taken by the Indian team management if the 30-year-old Karnataka man endures another failure before the squad for the last two Tests is announced.

With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja putting enormous pressure on the Australians during the hosts' comprehensive innings win in Nagpur, one can confidently say that another slow turner will greet the visitors at the Ferozshah Kotla.

Unless Australia bat out of their skin, they won't even be able to stretch it to the fifth day.

The Ferozshah Kotla tracks, after the initial moisture dries up, turn as dead as a dodo.

India head coach Rahul Dravid had no hesitation in admitting that in the recent past, it has been the middle-order troika of Ravindra Jadeja, the now-injured Rishabh Pant and the fit-again Shreyas Iyer that has bailed the team out on most occasions.

Even in the opening Test, it was left to the duo of Axar Patel and Jadeja to out-bat Australia.

The Kotla pitch promises to be a touch slower than Jamtha, and hence, the Indian batters need to follow their skipper's template and employ a judicious blend of attack with defence.

With shorter boundary on one side, Australia skipper Pat Cummins will be wary of bringing in Nathan Lyon from the Old Pavilion end, as the leg side boundary would be barely 60 metres.

Shreyas Iyer or one more game for SKY

Shreyas Iyer has completed his rehab after suffering a lower back injury and as per the current team management's convention, any player who was performing before getting injured would get his place back in the playing XI.

Dravid, in fact, said that "if Iyer is able to take workload of five-day Test, he will walk into the side".

If anyone knows Dravid, the operatives are always between the lines.

Iyer hasn't played competitive cricket for more than 30 days and will it be risky to throw him straight into a Test match even before checking his match fitness? That's a tricky call.

In the case of Surya, more than being Iyer's replacement, India is looking at him replicating Pant's cavalier approach in the middle-order as Kona Bharat is more of a keeper who can also bat decently.

Will Warner get another chance?

David Warner's lean patch in Test matches has been a matter of concern for Australia. The manner in which Mohammed Shami sent his off stump cartwheeling didn't make for a pretty picture and whether he gets another chance remains to be seen.

Having already brought in an additional left arm spinner in Matt Kuhneman in the squad, it will also be interesting to see whether Australia decide to go with three tweakers.

Mitchell Starc, if fit, could replace Scott Boland as the Kotla pitch, with no tangible help off the surface, could seriously dent the confidence of the burly Victorian.

Teams:

India: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Ishan Kishan (wk).

Australia: Pat Cummins (captain), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Alex Carey (wk), Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscombe, Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Lance Morris, Mitchell Swepson, Todd Murphy, Josh Hazlewood (unavailable), Cameron Green (unavailable), Mitchell Starc (from 2nd Test).

Match starts: 9:30 am.

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