The unpredictable was made to look like the worst kept recent secret in Indian cricket in the recent past. Rohit Sharma, if everything goes to plan, will open in Test cricket for the first time against South Africa. Exciting young talent Shubman Gill earned his first call-up to the Test side with KL Rahul making way after failing to make an impact in the West Indies. The rest picked themselves in the squad. Here’s a look at what we can look forward against a Proteas side in transition.
Back to the drawing board for Rahul
Rahul’s topsy-turvy year continues after the selectors decided it was time for a rejig at the top of the order, somewhat a recurring feature for India. To be fair on Rahul, there aren’t too many openers around the world creating ripples at the top of the order in the longest format either. On one hand, Hanuma Vihari pretty much cemented his spot in the lineup with a Man of the Series display in the West Indies.
Rahul, though, continued to cut a frustrating figure. He ended the West Indies tour with scores of 13, 6, 44, 38. Rahul’s problems have worn a familiar look about them in recent times. He gets off to confident starts, only to throw it away through a combination of rash shots and a jumbled mind against deliveries seaming away.
Gill’s consistent run of form and the clamour for giving Rohit Sharma a chance at the top of the order – a move that worked wonders for India in white-ball cricket – saw Rahul make way. It won’t be surprising to find the stylish Karnataka batsman score heavily in the domestic circuit and knock on the doors soon. But he isn’t the only go-to option anymore. Bengal captain Abhimanyu Easwaran and Ruturaj Gaikwad have caught the eye in the recent past too. Mumbai prodigy Prithvi Shaw will also be in the mix once his suspension period ends.
All is not lost for Rahul, though. He was dropped at the turn of the year for a poor run Down Under. Then came the controversy surrounding a talk show. The 27-year-old still managed to bulldoze his way into the World Cup squad through his Indian Premier League performances. For someone as gifted, and having earned his name as a reliable red-ball specialist many seasons ago, this is certainly not the last we have seen of KL Rahul in Tests.
High time for Gill
Around the time Gill was preparing for the U-19 World Cup in 2018, Rahul place as India opener was far from being a threat. Since then, the duo’s lives have headed in different directions. Be it IPL, Ranji Trophy or List A cricket, Gill’s rise has been rapid. Gifted with flamboyance, compact technique, composure and the nous to build big scores.
Gill’s induction in limited-overs cricket ended on a whimper – too eager to succeed and in a hurry to get the scoreboard moving. Seeing out the early threat of the New Zealand pacers and getting a fifty on the board may have even boosted his chances of sneaking into the World Cup squad, maybe. Just take Vihari’s battling debut in England last year against a hostile bowling attack.
A comparison would be harsh on Gill. At a tender age, he is already one of the top draws in an already star-studded Kolkata Knight Riders side. The 20-year-old has come out out wiser from his first taste of international cricket. It is his big-scoring spree that convinced the selectors that the Punjab batsman was a gamble worth taking.
The big question remains: will he get his chance despite the captain instantly taking a liking to his style? Chief selector MSK Prasad’s has hinted at Rohit Sharma opening at the top of the order along with Mayank Agarwal so Gill’s turn would have to wait.
Will the Rohit experiment work?
To further illustrate the point on openers – it simply hasn’t been the season for them against the red ball, has it? – there is a good chance Rohit Sharma might not find the going easy against Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Co.
For all his brilliance in the blue kit, it is difficult to define Rohit Sharma’s Test career. Especially after the early promise. The focus was certainly on Sachin Tendulkar his farewell series but it was another Mumbai batsman’s brilliance that stole the thunder against West Indies. Rohit Sharma scored back-to-back hundreds and it looked all too easy for a someone who makes batting look exactly that when on song.
The 32-year-old’s Test career started to wear an eery similarity to his ODI career with the early promise fading into the background quickly as runs started to dry up. Importantly, it was the manner of his dismissals that came under the scanner. However, in the 2016-’17 season, it seemed as though Rohit Sharma was on a resurrecting mission despite not getting a three-figure score. A long injury layoff came at the wrong time.
He sat on the sidelines in the Windies after a stupendous World Cup and had only played small parts of India’s overseas cycle starting from 2018. There are warning signs from another part of the world with Jason Roy being all at sea with the switch from ODIs to Tests. Well, India have their hopes pinned on a Sehwag-esque switch in formats. With a second chance at a first impression, Rohit Sharma, at the back his mind, will be aware that this could be a potential make-or-break series for him.
No Pandya, no cry
There might have been a few eyebrows raised over all-rounder Hardik Pandya not getting a look in. With Rahane and Vihari solidifying India’s middle over with their recent performances, coupled with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin (he will play this time, won’t he?) more than capable of holding their own with the bat, Pandya is wasted here.
Bring South Africa’s historical woes against spin into the picture and the plan looks pretty straightforward. There is a very good possibility of Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav getting into the lineup. That would leave the team management the with the unenviable task of leaving Mohammed Shami out. It also goes to show how good Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma have been.
If the Ashwin-Jadeja spin axis replicate their feats from 2016-’17, Pandya’s wait for his next Test cap will have to wait that much longer.