New Delhi, India’s opening batting lineup, thin on form and experience, includes an out-of-form Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, who hasn’t played a Test since two years, and Abhimanyu Easwaran, whose inclusion as a standby opener has already raised eyebrows.
Either Agarwal or Rahul will get to open with Rohit Sharma after Shubman Gill’s availability for the first Test against England on August 4 became uncertain due to a leg injury. Sharma himself had failed to go beyond 30 runs in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand.
There were already questions on the depth of the bench when the squad was announced last month. And Gill’s injury has made things worse.
The right-handed Easwaran wasn’t even among the top five run-getters for Bengal in Ranji Trophy in 2019-20, the last time the tournament was played.
His only first-class knock of note in the 2019-20 season came during Duleep Trophy — 153.
KL Rahul, who had undergone surgery for appendicitis recently, has not played a single Test since August-September 2019. Although he travelled with the team to Australia for the four-Test series, which India won 2-1, he couldn’t get an opportunity. In fact, he got injured before the last two Tests.
Rahul had played all the Tests the last time India travelled to England but it was only in the final Test, at the Oval, that he managed to get some runs – 37 and 149. Apart from that he struggled against the moving ball.
Mayank Agarwal, who endured a torrid time in Australia as an opener (with scores of 17, 9, 0, 5), hasn’t been tried again since then. He did not feature in any of the four Tests against England at home.
This brings into focus the selectors’s decision to leave out Prithvi Shaw or even Shikhar Dhawan, who both have Test experience, from even the list of standby players. Both Dhawan and Shaw are in Sri Lanka with India’s limited-overs squad.
Shaw, in fact, was dropped after failing in the first Test at Adelaide in Australia, the pink-ball Test, in which the entire Indian batting crumbled.
Former national selector Sarandeep Singh had recently expressed disagreement over the selection of Easwaran.
“I am surprised with Easwaran’s selection. I thought Prithvi Shaw is an experienced player at international level, and has played Tests. He is currently in form also. He should have been included. I would have even thought of Devdutt Padikkal, because you need to reward domestic performances too,” Sarandeep Singh, who was part of the previous selection committee, had in a recent chat.
If Gill fails to recover in time and misses not just the first but the second Test too, it is quite likely that Easwaran will be called up to the main squad.
The selectors, if pressed, may even dispatch Shaw to England immediately after Sri Lanka tour but that will be a long process and he may not be available before the third Test.
As of now, everything rests on how the Sharma-Agarwal-Rahul trio performs.