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12.01.2019  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

India has finally won a Test series in Australia for the first time in 71 years and 12 tours. In the process, India became the first Asian team to win a Test series in Australia which would only signify the enormity of the achievement.

By winning the Border-Gavaskar trophy by a margin of 2-1, the Indians have finally got the monkey off their back. Being the No. 1 Test team in ICC rankings for so long, India has finally set right one of the ironies by winning a Test series in Australia. If India manages to win a Test series in South Africa in the future, they would be worthy of their Test ranking.

For his wonderful contribution with the bat, Chateshwar Pujara deservingly got the Player of the Series award. Pujara was the actual difference between the two teams in the series. More so, with his best innings of the series on the very first day of the series which really dictated the direction in which the series should move.

Now that the series is done and dusted and with India scheduled to play their next Test match only in July 2019, the focus will automatically shift to the World Cup in England in June 2019.

Before the World Cup in England, India is scheduled to play a total of 13 ODIs, 3 in Australia, 5 in New Zealand and 5 against Australia at home. These 13 matches are actually the testing ground for the Indian selectors and the team management to arrive at the best composition for the World Cup.

In that respect, the selectors would be delighted that 3 Indian players who were not quite there before have immensely enhanced their prospect of selection in the World Cup squad with their performances in Australia.

Though the World Cup is a different format altogether, in today’s world of cricket it is very difficult to find a player like a Pujara who can be termed as a Test specialist. A Test purist like a Pujara is rare and precious in modern day cricket.

As far as other players are concerned, they would endeavor to play in all formats of the game if their skill levels, form, and fitness allow them to do so. From the selector’s point of view, they wouldn’t mind alternating in-form players amongst formats to maximize the good form of the players for team benefit.

But for the fast-approaching World Cup, India would very much love to experiment young and exciting prospects like Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal in ODI formats too. In fact, the Australian selectors have taken that route in their selection of the ODI team to play India. They have selected Test specialists like Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, and Peter Siddle ahead of one-day specialists like Travis Head and Chris Lynn.

Coming back to India, the Australian Test series has reinforced the presence of some of the players who could be a useful addition to the World Cup squad. We are not talking about the Rohit Sharmas and Shikhar Dhawans here who are near certainties for the World Cup.

It is about players who are on the verge of selection but who might miss out. 3 such border-line players have enhanced their chances of selection to the World Cup with better performances in the recently concluded Test series against Australia.

Rishabh Pant as the reserve wicket-keeper batsman

Performance in Australia

Matches– 4, Innings– 7, Runs scored– 350 Avg– 58, Catches– 20

Rishabh Pant broke many records in the Test series against Australia. Apart from taking the most number of catches in the series for an Indian wicket-keeper, he also became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in Australia.

In batting, he has shown his consistent side with scores of 25, 28, 36, 30, 39, 33 and 159 not out. Unlike in England, he was composed and safe behind the wickets in Australia. Pant’s compelling performances in Australia has already prompted the Chairman of the selection committee, Mr. M.S.K Prasad, to make positive remarks about Pant’s possible return to the World Cup squad.

Though Pant has not exactly set the stage on fire in the 3 ODIs he has so far played for India, Pant is an attacking option in the Indian middle-order which India sorely miss at the moment. The fact that he is a left-hander is an added advantage.

Pant can be in the World Cup squad both as a reserve wicket-keeper and as a reserve batsman. He has only enhanced his reputation on the Australian tour. The possible return of Rishabh Pant might set Dinesh Karthik’s place in the ODI team in jeopardy.

Ravindra Jadeja as the spinning all-rounder

Batting performance in Australia

Matches – 2, Innings – 3, Runs scored – 90, Avg – 30 50s -1

Overs – 89, Maidens - 25 – Runs conceded – 200, wickets taken – 7

Ravindra Jadeja got his opportunity to play in the third Test at Melbourne after Ravichandran Ashwin got injured. Though he had nothing to contribute with the bat since he had to throw at his bat in both the innings before the declaration, it was with his bowling that Jadeja made all the difference in the first innings at Melbourne. The presence of Jadeja had enabled Kohli to close one end up and rotate his fast bowlers at the other end. Apart from controlling the flow of runs, Jadeja did contribute with the crucial wickets of Usman Khawaja and Mitch Marsh in the first innings. In the second innings, Jadeja claimed the wickets of Marcus Harris, Mitch Marsh, and Tim Paine.

With that Jadeja made a huge contribution towards India winning the Melbourne Test which later resulted in India winning the series. He has reminded the team management what they missed in the second Test at Perth, though there were conflicting reports about his fitness for that Test. At Sydney, Jadeja made 81 with the bat and took the wickets of Marcus Harris and Shaun Marsh though rain denied India of a well-deserved win.

With his all-around performance in Australia, Jadeja has once again brought the selectors to notice to his multifaceted talent. Whatever little doubt the selectors have of selecting the third spinner in Jadeja for the World Cup squad has been put to rest with his performance. After Jadeja’s performances in Australia, if the selectors decide to go in with only two spinners for the World Cup in tune with the conditions prevalent in England, Jadeja will certainly be one of the two. Of course, the first choice spinner will be Kuldeep Yadav.

In such a scenario, It will be Yuzvendra Chahal’s turn to miss out as Jadeja is a far superior batsman and fielder than Chahal. In the 8 ODIs that Jadeja has played since his comeback in the Asia Cup, Jadeja has taken 14 wickets while Chahal in the same period and in the same number of matches has taken 11 wickets only.

With his consistent performance in Australia, Jadeja might have booked his place for the World Cup.

Mohammed Shami as the extra seamer

Performance in Australia

Overs – 134, Maidens – 25, runs conceded – 414, Wickets taken – 16

Mohammed Shami was the go-to bowler for Virat Kohli in the Australian series. He has been a partnership breaker and a constant threat to the Australian batsmen. His best performance came in the second innings of the Perth Test when he finished with figures of 6 for 56. In India’s victory at Adelaide and Melbourne, Shami contributed with 5 and 3 wickets respectively.

In the present Indian ODI squad, there are no effective fast bowlers to back up the new ball bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. They do have a Hardik Pandya as a seam-bowling all-rounder. The emergence of Khaleel Ahmed is a good sign, him being a left arm fast bowler. But he is inexperienced in international cricket.

In this background, the recent performances of Mohammed Shami in the Test series would have delighted the selectors and the team management.

Though Shami is expensive at times, he is an out and out fast bowler who could be used as a strike bowler. He is good both with the new and old ball, particularly bowling to left-hand batsmen. He is an experienced bowler having played in 40 Test matches and 52 ODIs.

Shami’s nearest rival for a place in the World Cup squad is Umesh Yadav who hasn’t done anything exceptional in the only opportunity he got on a responsive wicket at Perth. Umesh has leaked a lot of runs in the past irrespective of the format of the game.

Hence Mohammed Shami could be the third or the fourth seamer India are looking for going into the World Cup. If anything, Shami has put forth his case so strongly before the selectors with his performance in Australia.

Apart from presenting India with a rare and first series win, the Australian Test series has thrown up some firm options to choose from for the World Cup. It is now up to the Indian selectors and team management to encash on such in-form players to the advantage of the team's fortune.