There has been a lot of noise around Rohit Sharma's selection for India's tour of Australia. The Mumbai opener in the Indian T20 league led the team in the play-off stages but is undergoing rehabilitation still and has been ruled out of the first two Tests against Australia later in December.
Rohit suffered a hamstring tear during the Indian T20 League season and can now travel only in the second week of December to Australia with quarantine restrictions further taking away two weeks. So who opens now for India with Rohit ruled out?
India have a few options in their Test squad already, but with Virat Kohli also out after the first Test, they will want to ensure that wholesale changes aren't made after the pink-ball Test at Adelaide Oval that kick starts the series.
While Mayank Agarwal is certain to take up one opening slot, there are quite a few takers for the other, yet very few convincing ones in the squad. So how should India plan for the first two Tests and possibly after that assuming they also want to ensure they have a contingency plan in place with Kohli leaving.
Openers in the squad: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill
Possible stop-gaps: Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara
Based on the Indian Test batting line-up, the conditions in Australia and the makeup of the two Tests, there are two ways for India to make for a good batting line-up to counter the Aussies in their backyard even in the absence of Kohli (second Test onwards) and Rohit Sharma.
- Open with Pujara, play Rahul in the middle-order
Cheteshwar Pujara isn't a full-time opener, but the Saurashtra batsman is a terrific no.3 batter and has time and again walked in within the first five overs in overseas Tests with the Indian openers failing.
The advantage of opening with Pujara is that he can see off the new ball without much damage given his tendency to occupy the crease and leave balls outside off-stump. Particularly against the pink ball, Pujara opening with Mayank could present Aussies with a stiff challenge as they are both dogged Test openers who do not mind consuming balls to preserve their wickets.
On the contrary, the Shaw experiment came a cropper in New Zealand and will likely fail here too. Rahul had a horrendous time as an opener in their last Test tour to Australia but is in decent nick to tried in the middle order in the first Test at least where he can try and negotiate Nathan Lyon and take toll of the old ball. While Shubman Gill is an option in this role, initiating him against the pink ball in Australia could be harsh on the youngster.
- A straight swap for Kohli in Gill and open with Rahul
For the second Test at least, they could ponder bringing Gill in for Kohli. Gill has had a good time in Ranji cricket and has shown enough temperament and controlled flair to be a good Test batsman. It might be a baptism by fire for the youngster, but he has shown he can live up to it.
If Gill slots in at 4 for Kohli, Pujara can continue at 3 with Rahul going back up the order to open with his Karnataka teammate, Mayank. Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant (or Wriddhiman Saha) complete the batting alongside stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane.
Batting line-up: Mayank, Pujara <-> Rahul (Pujara opens in Adelaide and Rahul after that), Kohli/Gill, Rahane, Vihari, Pant.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Noah Seelam