With just about a month left before India’s five-Test series against England is scheduled to get underway, their opener Shubman Gill has been reportedly suffered a lower leg injury - the extent and cause of which is still unknown.
There are even speculations that Gill, who since making his debut in December last year, has become the de facto opener in Tests, may end up missing the entire England series. While it’s too early to comment on the impact his absence could have at the top of the order considering he’s just played eight Tests, the Indian team management will have to zero in on a replacement should Gill end up being ruled out.
So who could team up with Rohit Sharma at the top?
We look at the top-four options Virat Kohli has at his disposal
Well, before Gill came in and that Melbourne innings gave the team management enough confidence to pursue with him, Agarwal was the first-choice opener before being pushed back among the reserves. The issues plaguing surrounding Prithvi Shaw combined with the fact that Agarwal hasn’t done much wrong meant the Karnataka-born batter kept his place. He averages a healthy 45.23 in 14 Tests, has scored 1052 runs including three centuries and four fifties. And has a double-century to his name as well.
The 30-year-old was first pushed down the lower order once Rohit returned to India’s XI during the Australia tour and then didn’t get a game during the home series against England where India persisted with the combination of Rohit and Gill. He scored 38 and 9 in his last Test in Brisbane. Ideally, he should be given a chance should either of the openers are deemed unfit but…
Another Karnataka batter in the squad who can lay claim for the spot. He was an injury concern and his selection for the UK tour came with a rider - subject to fitness clearance. However, as it turned out, he was indeed cleared. However, on expected lines, he didn’t make the cut for the World Test Championship final.
Rahul has played 36 Tests so far in his career and scored 2006 runs with five centuries and 11 fifties. He last played a red-ball game for India during the West Indies tour of 2019 before Rohit made those bucketload of runs against South Africa at home to revive his own Test career and push Rahul out of the eleven.
So what did Rahul do wrong? Well, inconsistency and the fact that Agarwal and Rohit did score plenty of runs during their initial team-up meaning there was no reason why their successful partnership needed any disturbance. And with the talented Prithvi Shaw, despite his myriad issues, lurking, there wasn’t much Rahul could do from thereon.
54 of his 60 innings have come as an opener. So there’s no dearth of experience. He has opened in England, has scored one century, three fifties - two of them ending in nervous nineties. It’s a long tour and don’t be surprised if you see the 29-year-old donning the whites again.
So if not Agarwal or Rahul or god forbid, should Rohit be out-of-form, needs rest or god forbid, is injured, there’s another specialist top-order batter in the squad but among the standby players - Bengal’s Easwaran. The 25-year-old has played 64 first-class games, scored 4401 runs at 43.57, has struck 13 centuries and 18 fifties.
At one point, he was a leading contender to make India debut thanks to prolific 2018-19 Ranji season when he scored 891 runs at an outstanding average of 95.66. A dip in form in the following season again pushed him back in the pegging order though. And the next season there was little to no cricket due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still he made the cut even though among the reserves for back-to-back Test series against England (he was in the reserves for the home series against England too). Which only means, the national selectors have their eyes set on him. As per a report in ESPNcricinfo, the 25-year-old even shifted base to Dehradun and began practicing at the academy run by his father under conditions that he may end up encountering in England should he get a go. Talk about confidence.
What about Hanuma Vihari?
Primarily, a middle-order batter, Vihari has opened the innings for India. Remember? Australia tour of 2018-19? Yup. With Murali Vijay and Rahul struggling, India made a bold decision to give debut to Agarwal and ask Vihari to face the new ball alongside the newcomer at the MCG Test.
And how did Vihari perform? Well, his scores depict a picture of failure - 8 and 13. However, he ate 141 deliveries across the two innings and blunt the new ball attack. India went on to win the Test by 137 runs.