Kolkata: The first Test against England may still be more than a month away, but the confusion over Shubman Gill’s availability for the entire five-Test series is posing questions about the opening pair for India. There are no dearth of options with Mayank Agarwal a ready fit to walk out with Rohit Sharma at Trent Bridge for the first Test, but there is also a window of opportunity for Abhimanyu Easwaran, a young opener and captain of Bengal.
With India travelling with a jumbo squad which has five stand-byes in times of COVID-19, Easwaran is available as part of the contingent and grapevines have it that he has been already added to the squad.
Gill has sustained a ‘‘calf or hamstring injury’’ injury during India’s defeat in the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in Southampton last month, and reports in the Indian media suggest he would be staying back in England to get the best available medical attention - in case a surgery is called for. No official comment is available from the BCCI so far.
While Agarwal, who has a double century in Test cricket, is likely to replace Gill at the top of the order in what would be his first Test in seven months.
India also have top-order batsman KL Rahul and allrounder Hanuma Vihari, the latter having opened in the 2018 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Easwaran,25, whose selection over an in-form Prithvi Shaw as a stand-bye had raised eyebrows in some quarters, may have been bit of a relatively unknown quantity but enjoys a reputation for being patient and capable of playing the long innings in domestic cricket. While he did not have an exceptional season in the pandemic-affected 2020-21 season, he was the leading run-scorer for his state in the 2018–19 Ranji Trophy with 861 runs in six matches.
It is believed that Rahul Dravid, who is responsible of developing the long assembly line of talents in Indian cricket, has a high opinion about him during Easwaran’s stints with India A.
“Rahul Dravid has taught a lot of things. The best part was that he gave me a lot of confidence. He asked me to be prepared for different conditions and gave me insights into how to tackle different situations,” he said in May after being named as a stand by.
“This (call-up as stand by) is really a big thing for me. I have experience of playing overseas. I have represented India A team. Representing your country at the highest level is already enough of a motivation,” Easwaran added.
In October 2018, Easwaran was named in India A squad for the Deodhar Trophy and had been on the fringes ever since. The next year, he was named in the India Red squad for the 2019–20 Duleep Trophy, where he scored 153 against India Green in the final.
It has become a norm for teams are travelling with extended squads due to the pandemic and this has resulted in reserve players standing a chance at making it to the playing XI. A number of reserve players got catapulted to the main squad in India’s tour of Australia earlier this year.