Mukesh Kumar lost out to Prasidh Krishna for a place in the Indian pace attack in the first Test against South Africa in Centurion. But after Prasidh’s below-average outing and India’s confidence-denting loss by an innings and 32 runs, things have changed. The Indian team management added Avesh Khan to the squad for the second Test as a replacement for the injured Mohammed Shami. Shami was ruled out even before the first began. The only reason for India to call for Avesh, who was in South Africa with the India A squad, for the second match, was the poor show by Prasidh and Shardul Thakur in the Boxing Day Test.
If India didn’t want to hand the Test cap to Avesh in Cape Town, there was no need for them to call him up suddenly. It is likely to be a straight swap between him and Avesh. But what Mukesh? He was the first choice in the West Indies and has played in the ODIs and T20Is in South Africa.
The Bengal pacer is not out of the race entirely, especially after India’s optional training session in Centurion on Saturday. India captain Rohit Sharma focussed on facing Mukesh, who bowled only to opener for at least 45 minutes as reported by news agency PTI.
Rohit wanted Mukesh to bowl one that comes in with the angle from length. In a video shared by a senior journalist, Mukesh even asked Rohit if he was able to bring the ball back in like the captain wanted. “Hawa mein andaar aa raha hai. Par koshish kar angle se andar laane ka (It swung in the air but try to bring the ball back in with the angle),” the skipper told his younger colleague.
Rohit specifically wanted Mukesh to pitch in between 4-6 metre length and the seamer seemed to have impressed the skipper. There were times when he beat Rohit’s bat and earned appreciation from the senior pro.
Rohit’s special focus on the in-coming deliveries could be because of the way he was foxed by Kagiso Rabada in the second innings. The right-arm pacer got one to straighten from a length and opened the Indian up.
When batting coach Vikram Rathour asked him, “Tu is net pe aayega” (would you like to use this one), pointing at the nets exclusively kept for throwdowns, the skipper replied: “Nahi yehin pe aur 10 minute bat karoonga” (No I will bat here for another 10 minutes).
The skipper devoted extra time for Mukesh and it seemed he was giving tips on wrist position and the length that he needs to hit regularly.
Mukesh has been consistently playing domestic cricket and is one of the biggest reasons for Bengal featuring in two Ranji Trophv finals in three years.
On the day, he did ask a few probing questions of the Indian captain and certainly made a case for himself for the Newlands game.
Meanwhile, Ravindra Jadeja, who missed the first Test due to an upper back spasm was back to his full fitness and is likely to play the second and last Test. But whether he comes in place of Ashwin or Shardul Thakur, remains to be seen.
(With PTI inputs)