It has never been easy to figure out Virat Kohli’s team selection in Test cricket. Mostly, it is a horses for courses policy but then again, there are times when he abandons it and goes with his gut instinct. And the reason it is coming into focus again is that there’s a big decision waiting to be made ahead of the day-night Test at Adelaide.
If Rohit Sharma had been fit earlier and in Australia already, we perhaps wouldn’t even have been talking about this. But at the moment, he is only ‘clinically fit’ and only reaching Australia a couple of days before the Test series starts. So that means, India will need to take the call about who will be Mayank Agarwal’s partner for the first Test.
It is a big decision simply because the first Test can set the tone for the series. It is a big decision because Kohli will return to India after the first Test. It is a big decision because ex-players believe that if India don’t win at Adelaide, the rest of the series will only the rest of the series might become a painful experience.
The two tour games have given us an opportunity to pit Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw directly against each other. The most experienced but currently out of favour Test opener KL Rahul opened in the T20 games but was rested for the tour games. And then, there is the outside bet – Hanuma Vihari.
So here’s a look at how they all performed:
Prithvi Shaw: In both innings of the second tour game, Shaw opened the innings with Agarwal ahead of Gill. If that means anything, then the team management still looks at him as the player to fill Rohit’s vacant slot because he is the incumbent. But then again, it could mean nothing. Shaw was his usual self in the first innings – playing some delightful shots while never pausing to take the foot off the accelerator. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. There was risk involved but he stuck to his guns. But as the saying goes, you live and die by the sword. He fell in the same over that he had already hit three fours, because that one delivery the ball moved back in sharply. The second innings didn’t tell us much. He lasted just eight balls and was dismissed before he could really get going. If Shaw gets through a session, the opposition will have been flattened but whether he can last a session is the big question at the moment. A bit too loose, a bit too frivolous with his stroke play.
Shaw on this tour: 0, 19, 40, 3
Shubman Gill: With every innings of this tour, Gill has looked better. His 65 in the second innings of the second tour game was a classy innings and he was unlucky to be given out when he was. The umpire thought there was an inside edge onto the pad before the catch was taken but Gill wasn’t pleased. The batsman, though, had done enough to make the team management and selectors sit up and take notice. On current form, he should be a better fit than Shaw. After some trouble with the running between wickets early on, he settled into a fine rhythm with Agarwal. They looked comfortable batting together. On the face of it, Gill has done enough to make his debut for India in the first Test but the real Australian attack is of a higher quality and his inexperience might count against him.
Gill on this tour: 33 (Canberra ODI), 0, 29, 43, 65
KL Rahul: With 36 Test matches under his belt, he is the most experienced cricketer of the lot but also someone who has had problems translating his white-ball form into success in Test matches as well. He didn’t play the tour games but then neither did Kohli and Pujara in Sydney. When Rahul has a clear mind, he can turn a match on his own but when he seems to be questioning his decisions, he turns into a liability. Rahul opens the innings regularly with Agarwal in the IPL and they will be comfortable with each other but does he have the confidence of Kohli and Shastri? He isn’t in exceptional form but then neither is anyone else. They have always given him a long rope and trusted his talent but has he shown the team management enough in the nets to somehow sneak ahead of Gill and Shaw?
Rahul on this tour: 12 (ODI), 76 (ODI), 5 (ODI), 51 (T20), 30 (T20), 0 (T20)
Hanuma Vihari: Vihari is the outside bet. They most probably won’t push him up the order unless the pitch has a huge tinge of green. The right-hander has absolute trust in his defence and his temperament. He knows his game and sticks to it. The other three can help India take the game by the scruff of the neck but Vihari is the wall who’ll stand there for as long as possible. He won’t give it away, he’ll bide his time. His century in the second innings at SCG on Saturday was a typical knock – solid, intelligent and what the team needed. Batting under the lights too, Vihari looked unperturbed even if Australia’s bowling fell off a cliff as the day went on. He is one of India’s Test specialists and can roll his arm over as well.
Vihari on this tour: 15, 28, 15, 104*
Who will you pick for as India’s openers for the first Test against Australia at Adelaide? Let us know on our Twitter handle: @thefield_in