Can Yashasvi Jaiswal be the No.3 in place of Pujara?

The two-Test series in the Caribbean, incidentally, mark the start of India’s campaign in the 2023-25 WTC cycle

Yashasvi Jaiswal (photo courtesy @mufaddal_vohra/Twitter)
Yashasvi Jaiswal (photo courtesy @mufaddal_vohra/Twitter)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s a favourite national pastime in India to do a post-mortem after any team selection — and it’s been no different after the Tests and ODI squads were named for the tour of West Indies next month. After the anti-climax at the World Test Championship (WTC) final, the selectors have taken a few right calls with an eye towards the future — though the bigger picture looks like more of a balancing act again.

The call-ups of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaekwad, in light of their extraordinary performances in the IPL, were much expected and it will be no surprise to see the former coming in place of the dropped veteran Cheteshwar Pujara at number three. Gaekwad, on the other hand, is more of a backup opener to captain Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill.

The Jaiswal story, over the past two seasons, had been a phenomenal one when he made the No.3 position his own for the Mumbai team. The southpaw’s hunger for the big innings has not gone unnoticed in the 2022-23 domestic season and should he come good, it will offer the much-needed novelty of a left-hander in India’s top order in Tests after Sourav Ganguly (keeping in mind neither Yuvraj Singh or Suresh Raina played Test cricket regularly).

Like all good things, Pujara’s innings in Indian colours look like coming to an end though in all fairness, the 35-year-old veteran was not the only top-order batter to fail in the WTC Final at The Oval. It must not have been easy for the resilient Saurashtra man, who filled in the giant shoes of Rahul Dravid at number three to the best of his capacity, to bounce back after being dropped at least four times in his career but to do it the fifth time around will be too much of an ask.

It’s been a story of contrasting fortunes for Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane ever since both were discarded early last year after a dismal Tour of South Africa. ‘Jinx,’ riding on a high after a show of character in the WTC Final, looked a certainty for the two upcoming Tests in the Caribbean, but to offer him the vice-captaincy looks a bit of a retrograde step at this point.

These are more short-term solutions as there is enough doubt about how long Rohit, now 36 and often bogged down with fitness issues, will continue to play the longer format of the game. It’s a decision somewhat akin to handing over the captaincy of the white ball team to senior pro-Shikhar Dhawan in the absence of both Virat Kohli and Rohit in the recent past — a parting gift of sorts rather than with an eye towards the future.

Another question that begs to be answered is whether stellar performances in red-ball cricket in the domestic scene hold any importance in terms of selection in Tests at all. Yes, one is talking about Sarfaraz Khan, the cherubic Mumbai batter, who had averaged 100-plus at the Ranji for the last three seasons. He had been a part of Delhi Capitals in IPL 2023 but did not really get enough chances to emulate a Jaiswal or Gaekwad.

The selection of Bengal’s Mukesh Kumar (both Tests and ODIs), a classical pacer in the mould of Mohammed Shami, is a good option now that seniors like Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma are being phased out. India’s fast bowling department, which had been their source of strength in the past two WTC cycles, certainly wears a fragile look with doubts over whether Jasprit Bumrah could be the same bowler again on return from injury.

The two-Test series in the Caribbean, incidentally, mark the start of India’s campaign in the 2023-25 WTC cycle. The ODIs which follow are also extremely significant with the ICC World Cup coming back to India after 12 years.

There’s certainly plenty to play for, as they say…

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