Opener KL Rahul’s poor show with the bat could pave the way for Rohit Sharma’s return to the Indian Test set-up when the selectors meet in Mumbai on Thursday to decide the squad for the two-match series against South Africa next month.
India’s vice-captain in limited-overs, Rohit, who couldn’t the playing XI against the West Indies, is expected to be tried out as an opener after Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari sealed the No 5 and 6 spots in the batting order. Rohit’s last Test appearance for India was in the away series against Australia in 2018.
Cheteshwar Pujara, at No 3, and skipper Virat Kohli, at No 4, automatically pick themselves. This has left head coach Ravi Shastri and skipper Kohli with only one position to tinker with – at the top of the order.
Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, a prolific performer in domestic and India A matches, could be rewarded with a place in the side as a reserve opener, if the selection committee decides to drop Rahul. The other openers in the fray are Priyank Panchal of Gujarat and Shubman Gill of Punjab.
Rahul has scored 664 runs in his last 30 Test innings, with his only notable score – 149 against England at the Oval last year – coming in a dead rubber.
With Mayank Agarwal assured of his place, the only bone of contention could be the opening slot where a 15-member squad could ensure both Rohit and Easwaran make it.
In case they both make it, then they might feature in the India A side in the two-day practice game against South Africa in Vizianagaram before the first Test in Visakhapatnam on October 2.
Otherwise, the selection will remain pretty straightforward with only Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who isn’t fully fit, likely to miss out. And that case, all-rounder Hardik Pandya could also be back in the Test squad or else Navdeep Saini might come in as a back-up pacer.
However, it remains to be seen whether the team management will want Pandya to only concentrate on white ball cricket in the next 13 months, keeping the T20 World Cup in focus.
Test matches in India normally feature one specialist wicketkeeper in the side but Wriddhiman Saha is very much in the scheme of things even though Rishabh Pant remains the top choice.
Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin will continue to be the three spinners in all likelihood, while Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma will be the three pacers. In case Shami is rested, then Umesh Yadav could come in.
Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav.
Hardik Pandya, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal, Navdeep Saini, Kona Srikar Bharat.