Team India have found themselves in a spot of bother ahead of the Test series against England, with young opener Shubman Gill developing a stress-related injury in his left leg. According to reports, Gill could be in danger of missing all the five-Test matches of the upcoming series, starting in August. Apparently, the Indian medical staff suspects it might take up to eight weeks for Gill to recover and regain fitness. The permutations and combinations have thus begun to find another opening partner for Rohit Sharma. Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, KL Rahul and Abhimanyu Easwaran are among the options India have at present.
Of the four choices, Agarwal deserves to have the first go at regaining the opening slot in Tests. He seemed to have made the spot his own after a stupendous debut, following a long wait. However, a sudden slump in form coincided with Gill’s rise in Australia and Agarwal was suddenly relegated to being the third opener. While it was difficult for the Indian think-tank to separate the Rohit-Gill pair since they had done well individually and as a combination too, now is a good time to draft Agarwal back in at the top of the order.
To be fair, Agarwal’s axing from the Test XI was slightly harsh in the first place. But once Gill made such an impactful debut in Australia, a tough decision had to be made. If we take a glance at Agarwal’s short career, even his 14-Test journey can be divided into two phases. He had a stellar first eight Tests, in which he hammered 858 runs at an excellent average of 71.50 with three hundreds. Two of his three tons were actually double hundreds, one against South Africa and one against Bangladesh.
In his last six Tests, however, the opener has only managed 194 runs at an average of 17.63. Agarwal has only scored one half-century in these matches, which came against New Zealand in Wellington back in February 2020. He played three of the four Tests in Australia but only managed a highest of 38 from six innings. The numbers are definitely a cause of concern. But, considering the amazing performances that he delivered in his first eight Tests, Agarwal must definitely be given a chance to prove his worth all over again.
Opening with KL Rahul a greater risk
Considering that Virat Kohli has a habit of experimenting and throwing up surprises, KL Rahul will definitely come into the picture as an attacking option at the top of the order. He has opened for India before and has even tasted limited success in Australia and England. However, just like Agarwal, he too had a barren run in the last Test matches he featured and was subsequently dropped from the Indian squad for the longer version of the game. He only recently forced his way in again, on the back of some stupendous performances in limited-overs matches.
In fact, Rahul hasn’t played a Test match since September 2019, when he scored 13 and 6 against West Indies in the Kingston encounter. Rahul enjoyed reasonable phase-in Tests matches for nearly two years, from December 2016 to September 2018. He scored 1239 runs at an average of 41.30 with two hundreds. In his last seven Tests though, he only scored 195 runs at a miserable average of 17.72 and a highest of just 44. No wonder Rahul was dropped from the Test squad after the poor phase.
Hanuma Vihari is another choice Team India have. However, India should not make the mistake of sacrificing a middle-order batsman to try and lengthen their batting. Opening is a specialist’s job and they have one in Agarwal, who has decent experience. India must give him first preference. And, if he doesn’t come off in the first couple of Tests, India can start exploring other options like Rahul.