On a quiet Tuesday, as the Cape Town suburbs poured into offices in town, four India players woke up nice and early, packed their bags, and made their way to the Newlands nets. This is rare for Indian teams to do: to go straight into the nets after a defeat. The players in the nets were those who didn’t play in the XI – KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Parthiv Patel and Ishant Sharma – but, still, it is a move that suggests India realise they need all the help they can muster after their batting struggled badly and their bowlers let the game slip before making a stellar comeback.
This is something that should please traditionalists such as Sunil Gavaskar who keep asking India to go to the nets and prepare harder after losing. The team’s refrain usually has been: “What will an extra nets session achieve?” The team didn’t even train a day before this Test, sending Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, to look at the pitch and address the pre-match press conference, which is usually handled by the captain.
The four players who turned up for nets could well be called upon in the rest of the series. Rahane seemed a certainty to start in Cape Town, but lost out to Rohit Sharma based on “current form”. As Shikhar Dhawan struggled with his “minor injury” at the start of the tour, Rahul would have thought he would make the playing XI, but Dhawan recovered, and his left-handness prevailed. Ishant was not well three days before the Test, but the team management says that was not the reason he was left out to make way for Jasprit Bumrah. Parthiv could be a left-field choice if Wriddhiman Saha continues to struggle against quick bowling.
The order in the nets was unusual. One was kept for throwdowns from Bangar, throwdown specialist Raghavindra and fielding coach R Sridhar. The other net was where Ishant and the net bowlers bowled. Two batsmen would go into the nets, and the third would wait outside. They would face an over each and switch: the idle batsman would take one of the nets, the batsman in that net would switch to the other net, and the remaining batsman would watch from the outside.
Ishant bowled with new balls, and the throwdowns were intense, not shy of bouncing the batsmen. This could be more of an individual enterprise than a team order for players who feel they could be asked to play as the series wears on. If they are going to be asked to play, then it makes complete sense to prepare as hard as they can, because the word around is that the pitches up in the north are going to test India even more without necessarily seaming as much as the one in Cape Town did.
If Rahul comes in, he will have to replace Dhawan. To fit Rahane in could be trickier because Rohit now has only had one chance. Ishant’s selection, too, may pose a few challenges, considering Bumrah made an impressive comeback in the second innings of the Newlands Test. If he plays as the fourth specialist fast bowler, that could further weaken the batting. The decisions only become tougher as India travel north, but it seems they want everybody prepared should those changes be made.