Kolkata: Who will be opening the Indian innings with Rohit Sharma in the first Test against England, now that Shubman Gill is injured? A simple cricketing question which has got a little complicated over the last few days - and may end up handing just that little psychological advantage to the hosts.
It was almost after a week after the World Test Championship (WTC) final when news broke that Gill has suffered a serious injury, later believed to be a stress fracture (though no official word is forthcoming as the Indian squad is still on a break and now dispersed), which could possibly rule him out for the entire five-Test series. Unfortunate, yes, but very much part of a professional sportsperson’s life - but India apparently has the bases all covered in a jumbo contingent which has two qualified openers in Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul while the resilient Hanuma Vihari can also step in.
There is also Abhimanyu Eashwaran, the Bengal opening batsman and captain among the five stand byes, who would then be drafted into the main squad.
However, the first signs of second thoughts leaked through when a section of the media reported that the Indian think tank (read: Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri) are contemplating about asking the BCCI top brass to send Prithvi Shaw - now in Sri Lanka as part of the white ball squad - over to England as a cover. Now, what message will it send out to Agarwal, a proven customer who has two double centuries as an opener and an average of 45.74 from his 14 Test matches?
Nobody was bargaining for Eashwaran to be pushed ahead of the experienced campaigners, but the signal given out to the 25-year-old - who has earned strong recommendation from Rahul Dravid for his technique and ability to play the long innings during his stint with India ‘A’ will also be a damning one.
Kapil Dev, India’s World Cup winning captain, openly questioned the logic of the tour management trying to override the selectors’ choice and plumping for Shaw who is in the middle of another tour - solely on the basis of his renewed confidence levels and awesome form at the domestic level and the IPL. The selection committee under former Indian pace bowler Chetan Sharma seems to be looking at the Mumbai opener as a prospect to partner Rohit Sharma in the T20 World Cup later this year in the UAE, and any poor show overseas in the seaming conditions of England may set back Shaw’s integration into the Indian team all over again.
Saba Karim's allegation
Meanwhile, Saba Karim, former Indian wicketkeeper and a senior BCCI functionary during the regime of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) dropped a bombshell during a podcast that he was surpised that Gill’s injury escaped the eyes of the medical team and said questions ought to be raised on how the opener passed the fitness test with an injury. Karim’s allegations have been shot down by a BCCI official off-the-record, but only a clarication in due time about the young opener’s nature of injury may put an end to the media speculations.
The importance of the opening combination in a full Test series as this is anybody’s guess, and any perception of India being the on edge in search for the right partner for Rohit may not be the kind of build-up India is looking for.
A clearer picture will emerge by the time Indian squad regroup in Durham around July 14. Till then...