Rohit Sharma’s first Test as captain will also usher in a new era for India’s middle-order with Shubman Gill and Hanuma Vihari all set to become long-term replacements of veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. It is now clear that Rahane and Pujara won’t be called for the three Tests this season (two against Sri Lanka and one away game against England) where Vihari and Gill, along with Shreyas Iyer as back-up, will be the options. There are two vacant spots from the last Test that India played in Cape Town and as Virat Kohli plays his 100th Test at Mohali.
But the bigger question is who will be the one left out if all three are fit going into the first Test starting March 4? Since Gill is raring to go, head coach Rahul Dravid will perhaps like to use him as a middle-order batter, who can also be an enforcer if the situation demands. There is a distinct possibility that Gill might be used at number three behind Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal. “I believe Shubman is India’s best bet at number three. Yes, he has opened but Mayank is there alongside Rohit and Shubman has the game to bat at that number,” former national selector and Test opener Devang Gandhi told PTI.
Gandhi, who was the national selector till January 2021, also said that Gill was initially being prepared for a middle-order role before he made his Test debut as an opener in Australia. “Why I feel the team management might be inclined to try him at No.3 is because when we fast-tracked him into India A system, he had a double hundred in the middle-order against West Indies A in West Indies. “Also having already opened in Tests, as No.3 he can also play the new ball well and start moving the game with his repertoire of strokes. You don’t want to get bogged down and with Gill, he can start pushing the envelope,” Gandhi explained.
While Rahane was primarily a number five batter, there is a possibility that Dravid and Rohit might be inclined to use Vihari at No.6 and send the dangerous Rishabh Pant at No.5 for variation. “If you see our top-order, Mayank, Rohit, Shubman, and Virat are all right-handers. It’s better if at No.5 we have a left-hander to get the left-right combination going followed by Vihari at No.6 and Ravindra Jadeja, again a left-hander at No.7. It could be the way forward,” Gandhi feels. But what could be the rationale of using a player like Vihari at No.6 and not at No.3 as his technique is closer to that of Pujara who used to blunt the new ball?
“Firstly, Vihari has played only one Test at home and he, above everyone else, deserves a fair run. Secondly, if you see for India and India A, he has batted at No.5 abroad but in India, he can come in at No.6 when spinners will be in operation and the ‘SG Test’ ball becomes relatively old. “Vihari has a fantastic record against spinners in Ranji Trophy and that’s something the team management can exploit,” he felt. So where does it leave Iyer, who scored a hundred on debut? Perhaps he would need to wait.
He isn’t Rohit and Dravid’s first choice as both Gill and Vihari played Test cricket before him and are currently ahead in the pecking order. But if anyone reports unfit, he is certainly going to be the next in line.
Possible Team Combination: Rohit Sharma (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin (fitness)/Jayant Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj.