For the first time in almost a decade, India will be without Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara in a friendly match when they take on Sri Lanka in Mohali from Friday. Rohit Sharma’s first test as India’s full-time captain will see the Indian middle class without the combined experience of 177 Test matches.
Although Chief Selector Chetan Sharma stressed that the Door will remain open for Pujara and Rahane To get back to the test site, her ax from the test site will throw chances at youngsters. The home series against Sri Lanka, which is not as strong as it was a decade ago, offers head coach Rahul Dravid and Rohit an opportunity to test new faces in the middle tier, something that has been a concern in the past.
Pujara and Rahane have been pillars of India’s middle class, notching more than 10,000 runs together, but recent loss of form and lack of consistency cost India an hour in South Africa earlier this year.
In Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara, India has had two technically sound third-place batsmen over the past two decades. Both were known for their relentless ability to smash enemy attacks and make life easier for No. 4 star lures – Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.
IS VIHARI AN IDEAL REPLACEMENT FOR PUJARA?
If India wants to go that route again, Hanuma Vihari looks like a solid choice for third place, despite his inexperience in batting in international cricket.
However, Vihari has scored the majority of his runs in domestic cricket, playing 3rd place.
Last month, Vihari scored 50 and 100 in Hyderabad’s win in their Ranji Trophy match against Chandigarh. Vihari competed in #3 and auditioned for the test role.
Former Indian batting coach Sanjay Bangar suggested that Vihari could be the ideal replacement for Pujara at number 3.
“I would like to see Hanuma Vihari in 3rd place. He has an ideal game for 3rd because you have to save the new ball easily so the middle order is protected,” Bangar told Star Sports.
“He’s a player who has been hitting big runs in domestic cricket for a long time. He sat there after scoring more than 5000 runs, then played Test cricket and also played some good shots. After that he had to miss a row of reasons.The job that Pujara has done very well for so many years, if someone can do that position very well, I think it’s vihari.
While Vihari could beat 3rd at Mohali, there’s a chance Shubman will beat Gill at this point. Gill, who has opened for India, has opened in all of his innings in 10 Tests except for the last, in which he was forced to bat at No. 3 after an injury worry against New Zealand last year.
IS GILL JUST A BACK-UP OPENER?
Gill also has the experience of batting middle tier in domestic cricket and unlike Vihari can be used as a finisher in the coveted spot which would mean India move a little away from their trademark No 3 bat.
Former India selector Devang Gandhi told PTI that Gill’s experience of handling the new ball as a opener will also help him up 3rd and that the 2018 U19 World Cup star is fast moving into India’s A- Team was promoted in mind for him.
“The reason I think the team management might be inclined to try him for 3rd place is because when we got him into the Indian A system quickly, he did a middle order double hundred against the West Indies A in West Indies had,” said Gandhi.
“Even after opening in tests, he can play the new ball well as No. 3 and get the game moving with his shot repertoire. They don’t want to get bogged down and with Gill he can start to push the envelope,” Gandhi explained.
It also remains to be seen what team management think of Gill, who could prove to be a future first-choice opener for India.
If Gill gets the No. 3 role, it will be interesting to see if Vihari bats at No. 6 or No. 5 while Shreyas Iyer waits in the wings to claim his spot on the team after hitting the hundred Debut against New Zealand in December.
IN-FORM IYER ON NO.5?
Iyer’s stunning form in the recently concluded T20I series against Sri Lanka should work in his favor to reach a middle role, preferably No. 5 or No. 6.
There is no doubt that Virat Kohli will continue to bat at number 4 and depending on the situation Inda will use Rishabh Pant as a mid-order floater. Ravindra Jadeja’s improved batting performance also gives India an additional option. We already saw Jadeja finish ahead of Rahane in 5th place in England last year.
If India decides to play 7 batsmen including Rishabh Pant, all 3 – Gill, Iyer and Vihari – could get an opportunity to be part of the XI.
When Rohit goes out with the squad list for the draw on Friday, we’ll get a little taste of India’s potential future batting roster. Rohit and Dravid have happy headaches, across all formats.