Opener Shubman Gill is doubtful for at least the initial part of the Indian cricket team’s five-Test series against England with a leg injury. This means India will have to pick another opening partner for Rohit Sharma.
India have reserve openers in their Test squad in Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul, as also Abhimanyu Easwaran, who was picked as a standby opener but is now expected to be added to the main squad. Hanuma Vihari and Cheteshwar Pujara have also done opening duty for India in the past. We take a look at each of these options:
Agarwal was India’s first-choice Test opener for a couple of years after his debut against Australia in Melbourne in December 2018. However, successive scores of 17, 9, 0 and 5 on India’s next trip to Australia in 2020-21 led to Gill taking over the spot. Agarwal hasn’t played a Test since Brisbane in January, where he batted in the lower-middle order. On paper, he is the front-runner to take back his spot from the injured Gill.
Rahul has the most opening experience among the reserves, and played all five Tests against England on the previous tour in 2018. Scores of 4, 13, 8, 10, 23, 36, 19, 0 and 37 were unimpressive, although he redeemed himself a bit with 149 in the fifth Test, by when the series had been lost. An average of 34.58 after as many as 36 Tests meant he lost his place, and has not played a Test match in two years.
The Bengal opener is yet to make his debut for India, but he has played 14 first-class games for India ‘A’. He has also opened in red-ball cricket in England before, making 23 and 31 for India ‘A’ against West Indies ‘A’ in an unofficial Test in Taunton in 2018. Given Agarwal and Rahul’s presence in the squad, it is unlikely that Easwaran will get a look-in for the England Tests unless there is a freak injury or two.
After just four Test innings at the No. 6 position, Vihari was asked to open at Melbourne in 2018. He fought hard, surviving 111 deliveries in the match, creditable for a makeshift opener. India’s preference for five bowlers has limited the opportunities for him. His part-time off-spin can be handy at times. But India is unlikely to go for his part-time opening skills in England of all places. He presents a left-field option nonetheless.
Pujara averages an incredible 116 as Test opener, although only across six innings, and all of them in the Indian subcontinent. His steady approach has helped India win two Test series in Australia but there are questions over his effectiveness at No. 3 in England. An advantage of having Pujara open is that it will allow a busier batter such as Rahul or Agarwal to drive the innings forward at No. 3.
Featured photo: AFP / Glyn Kirk