After suffering a 1-2 series defeat against South Africa in the rainbow nation, out-of-form senior India cricketers Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been dropped for the upcoming two-Test home series against Sri Lanka starting in March.
While both Pujara and Rahane were part of the Indian cricket team’s several impressive Test series victories in the last decade, the duo have struggled with their form in the last two years.
Since the start of 2020, Rajkot-born Pujara could manage just 973 runs in 38 innings at an average of 26.29. Though the Saurashtra cricketer registered eight half-centuries during this time, his last century came during the 2018-19 tour of Australia.
Similarly, Rahane has also been short of runs for the last two years, amassing 819 runs in 35 innings at an average of 24.08 with three fifties and one century during this period.
The below-par performances from both Pujara and Rahane forced the selectors to take a harsh decision, leading to their removal from the Test squad.
Here we look at a few players who can permanently replace Pujara and Rahane in the Indian Test playing XI:
While Hanuma Vihari hasn’t been the most consistent since making his Test debut against England in 2018, the 28-year-old has impressed in his short international career and is expected to be given a longer run in the middle-order in the upcoming Test matches. So far, Vihari has scored 684 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 34.20 with four fifties and one century to his name. The right-hander also had a successful South Africa tour for India A, registering scores of 54, 72*, 63, and 13* besides making a fighting unbeaten 40 in the second innings of India’s second Test against South Africa last month. Considering Vihari’s solid technique, he could become a vital cog in the middle-order for years to come.
Mumbai cricketer Shreyas Iyer hogged the limelight after he slammed a hundred on his Test debut against New Zealand in Kanpur. Iyer became just the 16th Indian cricketer to register a ton in their debut Test match. The 27-year-old continued to impress in the series as he amassed 202 runs in two Tests at an impressive average of 50.50. He could be a perfect replacement for Ajinkya Rahane in the middle-order but it remains to be seen if Iyer can cash in on this opportunity and finally live up to his billing as one of Indian cricket’s brightest talents.
With captain Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul expected to open the innings for India in the longest format, the team management could utilize highly-rated Shubman Gill in the middle-order. The Punjab-born cricketer has already played some scintillating innings at the top of the order, scoring 558 runs in 10 Tests at an average of 32.82.
However, experts believe that with the kind of technique that Gill possesses, he might flourish batting in the middle-order in Test cricket. While he has mostly batted as an opener in his brief Test career so far, a move down to the middle order could be just what Gill needs to start flourishing and fulfill his promise as a batter in the Indian red-ball team.
Mayank Agarwal has performed exceedingly well when given an opportunity in the Indian Test set-up. The swashbuckling opener has accumulated 1429 runs in 19 Test matches at an average of 43.30. He has hit four tons as well as six half-centuries in his Test career so far and has performed in pressure situations and difficult conditions abroad. However, with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul set to be the first choice openers in the Indian Test playing XI, Agarwal getting a spot at the top of the order seems highly unlikely although Rahane and Pujara’s exclusion may have just paved a way for him into the team at number five.
Featured photo: WILLIAM WEST /Patrick HAMILTON /Punit PARANJPE /AFP