There was a difference of opinion over picking a replacement for the injured opener KL Rahul for the remaining two Tests of the ongoing series. According to a BCCI insider, Karnataka middle-order batsman Manish Pandey was initially considered before the selectors preferred a like-for-like candidate; with the understanding that Shikhar Dhawan would be chosen ahead of Gambhir in the playing XI.
Dhawan lost his place as Murali Vijay’s opening partner following Rahul’s emergence in the West Indies, but he has been part of the original squad and is likely to get in by default.
India had an optional training session at Eden Gardens on Wednesday and Dhawan, along with Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha, had a long stint at the nets. The third-choice opener, Gambhir, had landed in Kolkata on Wednesday evening.
Alongside the senior players, Haryana offie Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma’s replacement for the second Test, enjoyed a decent workout. Here’s a boy who has been given the chance to have a feel of the Indian dressing room because he performed well in domestic cricket. And, maybe, the selectors missed a trick by not handing out a similar opportunity to a young opener instead of bringing in a player in the twilight of his career.
The Indian Test team has been going through a purple patch since Sri Lanka last year. And this success presented the selectors with the ideal scenario to blood in youngsters with the likes of Mayank Agarwal and Abhinav Mukund providing options.
The erstwhile selection committee led by Sandeep Patil had recalled Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh ahead of the World T20 earlier this year. But back then, India had hit a slump in limited-overs cricket. Several young players had failed to rise to the required standards. And with the World T20 approaching, they decided to pick horses for courses.
The situation in Tests is different. Serial victories have opened up scopes for experiments. Also, flying in someone like Gambhir as a standby option — he has 56 Tests behind him — looks a little odd.
More so since Rahul’s absence doesn’t impact the opening combination experience-wise. Vijay is 32 and he has played 40 Tests. Over the last couple of years he has proved himself as one of the most assured Test opener in the world. If Vijay were out, Gambhir’s inclusion would have offered logic under the pretext of experience. But with a tried and tested opening pair in place — Vijay and Dhawan have been opening the innings for India since March 2013 — a younger player might have deserved the apprenticeship.
According to the source, Gambhir’s ability to play spin was a major reason for his recall. “He is still an excellent player against spin and given that we have a long home season (13 Tests) this term, it’s not a bad idea to have him in the scheme of things,” he said.
India have put on 400-plus scores in an innings only twice in their last 10 completed Test matches. In Sri Lanka last year, Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal had 28 Indian scalps between them. Then, South Africa’s Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer, Dean Elgar and Dane Piedt accounted for 33 wickets on Indian pitches. Even in the West Indies, Roston Chase had a five-wicket haul.
At Green Park in Kanpur also, the hosts were put under pressure by Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig in the first innings. Yes, Gambhir will probably counter spin on a turning deck a lot better than some of the younger Indian batters. But teams usually aim to move forward after overcoming a transition phase.
Good, but others better
The other logic during the discussion related to Rahul’s replacement was that Gambhir has been scoring runs in domestic cricket. The Delhi left-hander had 488 runs at 37.53 in eight matches in the last season’s Ranji Trophy. In the Duleep Trophy this year, he made 356 runs at 71.20 in three matches. Compare these with Agarwal, who had 417 runs at 52.12 in five Ranji matches last term and 420 runs in three Duleep matches. As for Abhinav Mukund, he missed last season’s Ranji Trophy but finished with an average of 82.66 in the Duleep Trophy.
Pandey was a favourite to come in for Rahul, albeit as a middle-order replacement. A section felt that his quality — he was also fresh from his 77 against Australia A in an unofficial Test in Brisbane earlier this month — should be rewarded. But the Gambhir-backers managed to drive home their point.
“Age shouldn’t be a factor. Gambhir is experienced and he is scoring runs in domestic cricket,” former chief selector Kiran More told this paper. Interestingly, however, it was his panel that had dropped Sourav Ganguly in 2006 as it wanted to roll over the old.