By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) As KL Rahul has undergone surgery for appendicitis recently, and his travel to England for India’s Test tour being uncertain, the focus on opening options shifts to the team’s reserves.
The Virat Kohli-led team includes four batsmen who can be used to face the new ball, including Rahul. While Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma are likely to start in the playing XI as openers following their decent individual performances in Australia (and also the opening stands of 70, 71, 11 and 18), questions are being raised over the bench strength in case any one of the two batsmen fail.
Apart from Rohit and Gill, the Indian team comprise Mayank Agarwal, who suffered a torrid time in Australia as opener (scores of 17, 9, 0, 5) and Rahul hasn’t played a Test since August-September 2019.
That leaves rookie and uncapped Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is travelling as one of the four standby players, as perhaps the next best option.
Although Easwaran told IANS that he was expecting the call and that he was mentally prepared, a few former selectors aren’t sure if taking him to England was the right move considering that the right-hander wasn’t even among the top five run-getters for Bengal in Ranji Trophy in 2019-20, the last time the tournament was played.
Easwaran only big knock of note in 2019-20 season came during Duleep Trophy — 153. But he couldn’t do much in the other three innings.
“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, told IANS.
Singh voted for Shaw, whom he compared with the redoubtable Virender Sehwag.
“He is like Sehwag. You have to guide him. If he clicks, he can destroy the opposition, just like Sehwag. I think on a tour like England, he or Padikkal should have been picked ahead of Easwaran, who didn’t a good domestic season the last time,” he said.
Former chief selector Kiran More said: “Selectors need to answer why he has been picked ahead of a more experienced batsman. I don’t want to comment on it.”
But since the chairman of selectors, unlike in the past, does not announce team in front of the media these days, and the Indian cricket board announces teams through bland media releases, the explanation that More seeks may never come.
Current chief selector Chetan Sharma did not take calls from IANS.
The only explanation could be that Shaw is known to be very suspect against the movement and Padikkal is fairly new, having played just 15 first-class games across two seasons.
Easwaran is the only batsman among the four standby players. The other three – M Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, and Arzan Nagwaswalla — are fast bowlers.
It is still unclear if Easwaran would be drafted in the main squad in case an injury happens or if Rahul fails to recover and does not make it to England.
But with India set to tour Sri Lanka for a white ball series, scheduled from July 13 to July 27, and with Shaw, Padikkal and Shikhar Dhawan likely to be picked for that tour, it looks unlikely that there will be enough time to send reinforcements from India in case of any calamity. That might well open the doors for Easwaran and the Bengal batsman could be drafted into the main squad.
Even if any of the three players are rushed to England from Sri Lanka, they will have to undergo quarantine. Besides, they will have to contend with lack of preparation.