India will defend the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in a Four-Test Series Down Under. The first Test will start on 17th December at Adelaide and will be a day-&-night encounter. Three more Tests at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, will follow.
The team news and injury updates ahead of the Test series are not encouraging. Skipper Virat Kohli had already announced that he will return to India after the first Test for the birth of his first child.
Reports on Tuesday stated that Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma may not regain fitness in time and will miss at least the first two Test matches. Discussions about how badly this will affect the foturnes of the Indian side have been ongoing.
To what extent is the team going to miss the services of Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma? Whom are they going to miss more during the Test matches? Let's deep dive into the numbers to try and answer to these questions.
Why is Ishant Sharma’s absence more of a blow for India than Rohit Sharma’s in the Test series?
Ishant Sharma's bowling average may not be among the best in the world. But he's like the wine, getting better as the years go by.
After playing 97 Test matches, Ishant Sharma is just three short of 300 wickets. He has a career average of 32.39 which is par at best. But we understand Ishant's true valye only when we glance at his career graph.
After a phenomenal start Down Under when he caused all sorts of trouble to Ricky Ponting, things started falling apart for the pacer. Ishant's graph kept going down and hit the low in 2012 and 2013, when he picked up just 19 wickets at an average over 58. His technique went haywire, his wrists were not getting behind the ball, and he struggled to make the ball talk.
Then the trend suddenly started gathering momentum and going upwards. The 32-year-old slowly became the go-to bowler for India in the longer format of the game. Ishant has been a workhorse when India has played at home and has picked-up a heap of wickets when India has travelled abroad in the recent years.
The last couple of years have been the best of the Delhi pacer’s international career. He picked up 41 wickets at a then-career-best strike rate (49.02) and average (21.8) for a calendar year, in 2018. When we thought that it was the peak, he bettered that strike rate (32.56) and average (15.56) in 2019.
Ishant Sharma has played just a solitary Test match in 2020 where he managed to get a five-wicket haul as well.
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 25, 2020
In the 20 Test matches in which India has won overseas, Ishant Sharma has picked up 77 scalps and has an average of 23.5, which is far better than his career average. He was excellent in the last tour to Australia as well, picking up 11 wickets at an average of 23.81.
The issue of the third seamer
Even if India decides to go in with three seamers in the Test matches against Australia, Ishant's shoes will be really difficult to fill. They have five quick bowlers in their ranks to pick from. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are obvious choices.
After making his debut in 2018, Jasprit Bumrah has picked up 68 wickets in just 14 matches, all of them away. His average is a staggering 20.33. Shami has also been exceptional, picking up 68 wickets at just over 24 during the last three years. In the last tour to Australia, the former picked up 21 wickets and the latter gather 16 wickets to his account.
The problem for India will arise with the selection of the third seamer. Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj are pretty much untested in the longer format of the game. And making the debut Down Under could be like baptism by fire. It could go well, but it could also backfire.
Umesh Yadav brings in the experience with 144 wickets from 46 Test matches in his career. But he is somehow half the bowler when he travels outside India. His average drops considerably from the career number of 30.47 to 42.33 when he plays Test matches away from home. His tally of 27 wickets from 8 matches in Australia which has come at nearly 46 runs apiece is also not encouraging.
Yadav’s numbers for the last three years would look good at a glance with 45 wickets at an average of 18.51. But again, this is a bit misleading. His best performances have come against some teams which may not be among the stronger ones in the recent times like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the West Indies.
Hence, not only the experience component, but also the wicket-taking ability of Ishant Sharma is going to be really hard for the Indian side to compensate for in the upcoming series.
🎤 INTERVIEW 🎤: Our fast-bowling unit thrives on challenges: @MdShami11
Fresh from an impressive IPL, the fast bowler talks to @Moulinparikh about #TeamIndia's closely-knit bowling unit and the marquee series against Australia. #AUSvIND
Full text 👉 https://t.co/OWrGCGDAxG pic.twitter.com/tcInT1l9Qo
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 22, 2020
Rohit Sharma is one of the modern-day greats in white-ball cricket, but he has not been able to emulate similar performances in red-ball cricket, leaving fans and cricketing pundits lamenting on the same.
The management finally decided to try him out as an opener in Test matches late last year. He performed that role in two series at home, first against South Africa and then against Bangladesh. The move found instant success as he amassed 556 runs from just 6 innings at an average of 92.67.
The 33-year-old was supposed to open the batting in the away Test series against New Zealand early this year, but picked up a calf injury during T20Is which ruled him out for the rest of the tour.
In essence, the Mumbai batsman has found success opening the batting in Test matches at home, but it could be a different ball game doing it outside India, especially when it is in one of the SENA countries. He could find success, but it is pretty much a guess work at this point in time.
The numbers for Rohit Sharma away from home aren’t encouraging either. While he has scored six centuries in India and averages over 88 runs per innings, he is yet to make a triple-figure score outside India and averages below 25.
Rohit Sharma played a couple of Test matches in Australia during the last tour as well, but could aggregate only 106 runs from four innings.
Issue at the top of the order
India could certainly be in a fix to find a suitable opening partner for Mayank Agarwal for the Test matches. Prithvi Shaw has played just 4 matches over 2 years and is coming off a forgettable season in the IPL.
KL Rahul has decent numbers opening the batting with five centuries, ten fifties and an average above 37, but his performance on the bouncy tracks of Australia and South Africa has been below-par. Rahul has aggregated just 217 runs from 13 innings in these two countries.
Whom will India miss more?
Yes, the Indian side has problems at the top of the order. But it's not something that Rohit's presence would alleviate entirely. He's not a tried and tested Test opener who would have given complete faith to the management.
Ishant, on the other hand, was the perfect third seamer going into the Test matches. India is definitely going to miss his services defending the Border-Gavaskar Trophy against Australia on their turf.