Sending him to South Africa with India A will help him acclimatise before the Test team’s visit, when they are likelier to need a sixth specialist batter
Now that it is established that Vihari is indeed going to the A tour of South Africa, it is possible to understand the likely thought process behind his non-selection against New Zealand. India usually play only five specialist batters at home, which leaves no room for Vihari – only one of his 12 Tests so far has come at home. So instead of him being in the squad and carrying drinks, India probably feel it is better he goes on the A tour of South Africa. His getting acclimatised for an important tour that India will be on is an added advantage. India’s domestic first-class season starts in January, so this is the only first-class cricket he can get before India’s tour of South Africa, where they may well play six batters.
Then again, this was a rare chance for Vihari to get a home Test even if it was just the one Test before Kohli returns for the second. This Test, though, is instead an opportunity for India to try Shubman Gill in the middle order, a station he is believed to be more suited to in the long run. You also suspect India want a slightly more assertive batter than Vihari if they are going to play just the five in India.
As with most decisions, there is a flip side. The flip side for Vihari is that if Gill gets a century in his only Test in the middle order, it could prop him up as the sixth batter in South Africa, ahead of Vihari. If that happens, it will actually vindicate the selectors because their job is to pick teams that are best for India and not see what is fair or unfair on an individual.
The flip side for India is a last-minute injury. In such a scenario, Vihari might be a better option than Shreyas Iyer, the other middle-order batter in the squad, to step in. That is a risk, it appears, the selectors are willing to take. In the past, the selectors have been criticised for keeping players on the bench for too long, denying them match time. Karun Nair, for example, kept travelling with the team without getting into the XI, and when a vacancy opened up during the 2018 tour of England, India overlooked him in favour of Vihari, who had more game time, first-class runs and, perhaps, form behind him.
The choice for the selectors was between giving Vihari one Test at home and most likely having him as standby for the second, and sending him on the A tour so he could be ready for the Test tour of South Africa, where India are far likelier to need a sixth batter. The selectors, it appears, have gone for the latter. Even if India play just five batters in South Africa, it can’t be ruled out that Cheteshwar Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane might be under pressure to hold onto their slot.
Like Nair’s, there is a chance that Vihari’s career might go down as a terribly unfortunate one. He just happened to be the fourth-best middle-order batter in India at a time when they only played three in a bid to pick an extra bowler and push for more Test wins. Vihari once had to open in Australia to find a place in the side. Unlike Nair, he doesn’t even feature in the IPL.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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“We are getting to play in New Zealand before World Cup which is also good,” she says
India will play World Cup hosts New Zealand for five ODIs before the World Cup in March-April.
“We have played three best teams since March and it has given us good preparation,” Raj said after a partnership between KFC and Indian Deaf Cricket Association in Delhi on Wednesday. “Players have played domestic cricket and also in the Women’s Big Bash so they are getting game time which is the most important thing.
“We are getting to play in New Zealand before World Cup which is also good.”
India, who were unable to post 250-plus scores regularly earlier, did that twice in the Australia series and chased down 265 in the final ODI.
India’s middle-order batting needs improvement but Raj said all departments must fire as a unit if they are to win the World Cup.
“We bat as a unit so you can’t pinpoint one area,” she said. “There are times when the top order failed and the others performed. As a unit if we look to post a good total then it will help. If we focus on one area like middle order then it becomes too much of a burden for that particular slot.”
India finished runners-up in the 2017 World Cup in England when not many expected them to but expectations will be higher this time.
“There were not enough expectations back then,” Raj said. “Now in 2021, players have got experience and got a lot of exposure with the T20 leagues. Overall we have young players but they have got enough exposure. It is just of matter of gelling well as a team.
“Every match will be different there. The quicker we read our opponents the better it will be for us.”
The Ashes 2021-22 – Michael Vaughan stood down from BT Sport Ashes coverage after Azeem Rafiq allegations
Channel to adopt a “hybrid” approach with Vaughan’s stints on Fox Sports to be overlaid
Vaughan, 47, was last week stood down from BBC Test Match Special’s coverage for “editorial” reasons, following allegations from Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire cricketer, that he had said “there are too many of you lot” following the selection of four players of Asian heritage in a county fixture in 2009.
However, BT Sport – who are due to take the Fox Sports feed after choosing not to send a bespoke commentary team to Australia – announced on Tuesday that they will be taking a “hybrid” approach to their coverage, with Vaughan’s on-air stints to be overlaid with studio analysis.
“As a result of Covid and travel restrictions BT Sport had made the decision to take our commentary feed from the Australian host broadcaster,” the channel said in a statement. “The recent report presented to UK Parliament uncovering institutional racism within cricket and specifically Yorkshire County Cricket Club is extremely disappointing and a concern for all.
“Given these recent events and the controversy with the situation we have taken the decision that including Michael Vaughan within our Ashes coverage would not be editorially appropriate or fit with BT Sport’s values. We are still finalising plans but we are assessing the option of taking a hybrid approach, using Fox commentary where possible with the aim of putting our own commentary team in place if necessary.”
Vaughan’s troubled build-up to the series continued on Tuesday, when he announced on Twitter that his arrival in Australia had been delayed by a week due to a positive Covid test. “[It] is frustrating,” he wrote. “But at least I’ll avoid the rain in Brisbane for a few days!”
However, his hopes of being retained by the BBC after the Ashes have received a boost, after the corporation confirmed that they had been in “regular contact” with Vaughan since his suspension, and had held “positive conversations with him in recent days”.
“Our contributors are required to talk about relevant issues, so Michael’s involvement in a story of such significance means it’s not possible for him to be part of our Ashes coverage or wider cricket coverage at the moment,” the statement added. “We’re pleased with how our conversations are going and expect to work with Michael again in the future. He remains on contract to the BBC.”
The BBC’s stance was criticised this week by his former England team-mate Monty Panesar, who wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph: “This feels deeply unethical — a classic case of someone being tried and convicted without any form of due process being undertaken.”
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