Combination Confusion: Rahul’s keeping, ideal choice between Prasidh and Mukesh

PTI, Dec 23, 2023, 3:04 PM IST

The best combination as per conditions isn’t always a team’s best eleven and it will certainly be a struggle for India to find the right blend going into the opening Test against South Africa on ‘Boxing Day’.

At least two slots will give head coach Rahul Dravid sleepless nights.

The tethering issues for India will be KL Rahul being asked to keep wickets to bolster the batting and the tricky task of choosing between Mukesh Kumar and Prasidh Krishna to replace the literally irreplaceable Mohammed Shami, who is recuperating from an ankle niggle.

On the face of it, some decisions might look straightforward but things won’t be as easy as it seems for the Indian team management, which will again have to make unpopular decisions.

Mukesh or Prasidh? 

The Centurion track has primarily been a pace bowler’s paradise — hard and bouncy with humidity that aids reverse swing during the latter half of the day.

So if one is talking about lateral movement, then Mukesh, who has already made his Test debut in the Caribbean, walks straight into the playing XI. But the Bengal seamer hasn’t looked in the best of form during the white ball leg of the series.

However, with 151 wickets from 40 first-class games, red ball cricket is where Mukesh feels at home and has an average of 21 plus runs per wicket. His strike-rate remains a very decent 48 balls per wicket.

More importantly, Mukesh is a like a workhorse, who can bowl long spells and has also been known to use reverse swing during his post tea spells in Ranji Trophy cricket.

The other advantage is channel bowling — right on the line – in and around the off-stump corridor and keeping it at fuller length.

Mukesh’s nearest competitor is one of Dravid’s favourite and a fellow Bangalore man Prasidh, whose hit-the-deck stuff is ideal for the Supersport Park.

Prasidh, who hasn’t even played 15 first-class games since his Ranji Trophy debut in 2015, wouldn’t even be in the picture had Shami been fit.

However, he hasn’t done his cause any harm by picking up a fifer for India ‘A’ against South Africa ‘A’ in first ‘Unofficial Test’ in Potchefstroom.

Prasidh, whose speed is a bit more and a natural length on the shorter side, is expected to get more bounce. But he can also leak runs as he is not known to be consistent with his lines.

If one goes by form in ODIs, Mukesh could lose out but going by skills in red ball cricket, he does hold a distinct advantage over Prasidh.

KL ‘the batter’ or KL ‘the Keeper’

Supersport Park was the venue where India won their only Test of the three-match series back in 2021. Rahul looked majestic en-route his hundred while opening the innings.

But things have changed in the last two years, Rahul lost his form, Rishabh Pant had a horrific accident, KS Bharat didn’t look cut out for top flight cricket and Ishan Kishan, after being benched since the start of World Cup, has now sought a ‘mental health break’.

Rahul had been named keeper for the series and he has already said that he is ready to don any role that team wants.

Last time, he had lost his place as a batter and he understands that glovework will not only give him an extra cushion but help him offset any poor batting form, till Pant makes a comeback, which could still be a distant future.

That Bharat was named in India A after his failure to get a single fifty in five Tests proves that the cupboard is bare. Kishan also got his Test cap on the basis of white ball form and the other A team keeper Dhruv Jurel is also more of a T20 keeper-batter in Jitesh Sharma mould.

India right now, don’t have too many good red-ball keeping options and it is learnt that for the England series, young Kumar Kushagra, who got a whopping Rs 7.20 crore IPL deal from Delhi Capitals, could seriously be considered as the second keeper.

In South Africa, Rahul can still manage as he would gather most balls round his waist to the pacers but keeping to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on rank turners is easier said than done.

But if one plays a specialist keeper in Bharat, then the batting combination goes for a toss. Yashasvi Jaiswal, after his sparkling Test debut in West Indies, might become the proverbial sacrificial lamb with either Rahul or Gill opening the innings.

That’s the only way that Shreyas Iyer, still an untested commodity on bouncy tracks in SENA countries, can be slotted in the middle order and add depth.

Rahul keeping wickets will decide what is Dravid’s line of thinking – positive or negative.

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