After the first day of their tour game against Cricket Australia XI, India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar had said the opening combination as well as the number six slot for the first Test in Adelaide beginning December 6 are still up for grabs.

But at that point, he wasn’t expecting in-form opener Prithvi Shaw to pick up an injury that would rule him out of the first Test. So while Bangar’s words still remain true, India are short an option whose aggression – remember how Virender Sehwag used to bat? – could well have changed the game.

“He has made a mark straightaway in whichever format he has played limited overs or first-class cricket, Irani Trophy, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy or India A,” Bangar had said after day 1 of the tour match.

“He has shown he can adapt to the conditions and to the stage as well. He plays with a lot of clarity and the impressive thing about him is that he gets into good positions with clarity of mind and fearlessness of youth that helps him quite a bit,” Bangar added.

Shaw’s injury assumes even more significance given KL Rahul’s troubles. The opener from Karnataka got a century during the fifth Test against England but he has been struggling from a technical viewpoint. The number of bowled and leg-before decisions are far too many for a batsman who opens the innings.

The toss-up for the opening slot was most likely going to be between Murali Vijay and Rahul but now with Prithvi gone, that confusion will clear.

It will also give both openers plenty of time to get themselves in the right mental space before the first Test.

Big opportunity

On India’s last tour of Australia in 2014-’15, Vijay had played a vital role – scoring 482 runs at an average of 60.25. Only Virat Kohli, with 692 runs at 86.50, scored more for India. He had played the vital role of blunting Australia’s new-ball attack, leaving the ball outside the off-stump especially well.

Kohli will hope that Vijay’s short successful stint in county cricket, which came after disastrous tours of South Africa and England, would have helped him regain the confidence that is so vital in international cricket.

For a while now, the Indian team has indicated that Rahul is the man they will back for the opening slot. And despite his early dismissal on Thursday, they continue to support him.

“He [Rahul] has been looking in good shape, including today [Thursday],” Bangar had said after the day’s play. “It is just that he is finding new ways to get out. Even today, the ball was quite afar when he played it away from his body and lost his wicket. But what we are reading he is playing the ball well and he is one hit away [from finding form].”

He added, “We know his ability and if he converts that to performances then it is important for the team. He is not a young player any more and he is on his second tour here. He has played 30 Tests and he has a responsibility. We expect him to play with that responsibility and play his role for the team.”

Injuries are part and parcel of the game and while Shaw’s injury would have thrown a spanner in the works for India, it helps that the likely replacements aren’t a makeshift pair. But even though they have been around for a while, Vijay and Rahul haven’t batted together a lot.

Vijay’s most successful opening partnership has been with Shikhar Dhawan. The duo put on 1,748 runs in 41 innings at an average of 43.70. With Rahul, he has batted in 25 innings and put on 620 runs at an average of just 24.80.

And these numbers will worry the Indian team.

Getting the innings off to a solid start is vital in Australia, or else you are exposing the middle order to some top-quality pacemen and that usually spells trouble.

With Prithvi sure to miss the first Test, Virat Kohli and the team can’t quite be sure of what to expect of Vijay and Rahul. That alone means India will start the Test on the back foot. But don’t they say back-foot players do quite well Down Under?