Team India emerged out of the 2019 World Cup with two key concerns to look into, apart from the so-near-yet-so-far exit in the semi-finals. First was the inability to find a reliable number four batsman, with Ambati Rayudu no more in the scheme of things, and the man selected ahead of him, Vijay Shankar, ruled out midway through the tournament with an injury. Secondly, the team desperately needed a player who could bat, and more importantly bowl, with as much reliability, if not more, as the first choice, Hardik Pandya also sidelined with an injury.
As of today, while the former case looks increasingly settled with the gusto with which Shreyas Iyer has come in and grabbed his chance, the search goes on for an all-rounder who can be a replacement for Pandya in his absence and then be a backup to him. With Shankar out of team management’s plans for the time being, Shivam Dube and Kedar Jadhav have been earmarked for the role.
India’s search for a quality all-rounder continues
The contribution of Pandya, especially in his ability to maintain the team balance, was very underrated and is being sorely missed, thus requiring the need for two players simultaneously to replace him. Pandya could be relied upon to be the fifth bowler in the team, while with the bat, he played his part efficiently. Thus, in his presence, the team management could afford to play five specialist batsmen alongside a wicket-keeper.
However, with Dube and Jadhav being more of batting all-rounders, the pattern in recent times has been to opt for four specialist batsmen, a wicketkeeper, followed by either of Dube or Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja and three bowlers. The expectation from the duo in the bowling department has been to send down some overs, as a matter of variety, not a priority.
This, for example, is reflected in Jadhav’s bowling figures in the last 14 games, where he has bowled a cumulative 24 overs, averaging less than 2 per game. The issue was also highlighted by Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman in the discussion after India’s loss against West Indies in the 1st ODI, questioning the utility of having Jadhav in the role of an all-rounder but using him solely as a batsman. Captain Virat Kohli seems more and more reluctant to employ Jadhav’s services as he preferred to test Shreyas Iyer’s bowling skills instead in the 2nd ODI at Vishakhapatnam.
The ideal scenario, thus, would be to look for an option that would allow the team to have five specialist batsmen providing sufficient depth in batting, against the current scenario of having to field jack-of-all-trade players as a compromise to create the needed balance. Here is where Jalaj Saxena, adjudged the best domestic all-rounder for three consecutive years now, can be an excellent option to have in the team.
Can Saxena be a solution to Men in Blue’s woes?
With the requirement being the need for an all-rounder who needs to be counted more with the ball than bat, Saxena is more suited to the role than the likes of Kedar Jadhav or Shivam Dube, and has been extremely consistent in the domestic circuit. His exploits in this year’s Deodhar Trophy- figures of 7 for 41 in the final- were the best in the history of the competition. In the recent Ranji Trophy game against Delhi, Saxena scalped six wickets in an innings, continuing his rich vein of form with the ball.
With the bat, he is solid and reliable and can slot across the order- as an opener to lower down- and scored 551 runs in the 2018-19 Ranji season, which included two centuries. He also holds the distinction for being the only active cricketer amongst the illustrious list of names who have scored more than 6000 runs and taken more than 300 wickets in first class cricket in India.
At a time when the efficacy of domestic performances is being questioned in terms of the convertibility into chances of a spot in the Indian team, the selectors would do well to improve their credibility by paying heed to someone like Saxena, who has been toiling and delivering performances after performances, especially now that there exists a slot for the Kerala all-rounder to fit into.
~ Written by Dr. Rohit Prabhudesai
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