As India held their final training session on Monday evening in the short camp for the Australia Test series, almost every player in the squad got to bat with the pacers bringing up the final batch.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni did not bat at the National Cricket Academy outdoor nets, instead moving around, talking to some of the players and coaching staff. He also spoke at length to two pacers attached to the academy. They listened attentively as he demonstrated bowling action and the ideal seam position to them.
But in the next few days, before the series kicks off on Friday, there will be interest beyond his captaincy and 'keeping. The focus will also be on who will take up the crucial number 6 batting slot.
Since Sourav Ganguly retired, that position has remained unstable. While Virat Kohli moved up to number 5 after VVS Laxman's retirement, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh have been dropped after failing to translate their one-day efforts in Tests.
Although the position may not be a big issue against an inexperienced Australia whose batsmen are vulnerable against spin. But this series provides the final opportunity to find a batsman who will fit into that position as India's next Test assignment will be in South Africa where pacers will dictate terms and the number 6 will have to be someone who can also negotiate the second new ball.
On Monday, the focus was on Ravindra Jadeja, who provides the all-rounder's option. His leg spin was very effective in the 3-2 one-day series win over England. And he struck two Ranji triple centuries for Saurashtra to underline his batting credentials.
The other candidate is Ajinkya Rahane. Although seen as an opener to begin with, the Mumbai batsman seems to have lost out, especially after being bowled twice by Steven Finn with in-coming deliveries. Besides, Shikhar Dhawan's selection as the third opener means Rahane's hopes of partnering Virender Sehwag at the top of the order is gone.
On Monday, he had a long batting stint at the nets, which suggested the team management does see him as the option for number 6.
Dhoni steps in
In India’s last Test, against England in Nagpur, Dhoni stepped up after Yuvraj was dropped, with Jadeja batting at number seven. Even if Dhoni continues to bat at number 6, it is unlikely he will do the job meant for a specialist batsman.
At Dharamsala, after the final ODI against England, Dhoni spoke of how it would have been ideal to have a seaming all-rounder. But his candidate Irfan Pathan has swung between poor bowling form and injuries. He is currently at the NCA for rehabilitation after his latest injury setback. Former chief selector Kiran More is one of those who is convinced that Rahane was suited for a middle-order place.
While picking the players who can take India forward for HT recently, More said: “Rahane will be utilised better in the middle-order.” Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the previous chairman of the selection panel, added: “Ajinkya should be there at number 5 in the future.”
For long, India have converted middle-order batsmen into openers, including Virender Sehwag. The Mumbai opener, waiting to get a go in Tests, could be moved the other way around.
Unless, Dhoni is willing to take up the challenge, especially in the absence of an established all-rounder to pick from.