On Sunday against England, all-rounder Vijay Shankar was left out of the playing XI for what captain Virat Kohli said at the toss was a “toe niggle”. Today, he was ruled out of the World Cup due to a toe fracture. The official communication from the Indian team stated: “Vijay Shankar sustained a non displaced fracture of the left big toe, which will require a minimum of three weeks to heal. The injury rules him out of the ongoing World Cup. The Indian team management has requested the ICC to consider Mayank Agarwal as his replacement.”
The decision to replace a middle-order batsman with an opener exposes India’s batting uncertainties. It highlights the cluttered mind set of the Indian team management struggling to get its batting order right. Injuries and loss of form are factors responsible for India unsure about how plays where.
It all started with India losing in-form Shikhar Dhawan to a thumb fracture. KL Rahul, who batted in the middle-order in the first two matches, became an automatic pick to partner Rohit Sharma at the top. Rahul scored a half-century against Pakistan and got starts against Afghanistan and West Indies. But unlike Dhawan, he is not complementing Rohit and India have been missing out on partnership batting at the top.
As it was evident during India’s failed run chase against England, surpassing a 300-plus total is difficult for this team unless Rohit or Kohli bats through. Rahul’s promotion has created a void at No. 4, with no readymade solution on offer. Rishabh Pant played well on his World Cup debut but he needs time to get into the groove. MS Dhoni is now a pale shadow of his former self, who struggles to force the pace unless the ball is in his hitting arc. England bowlers laid bare his frailties yesterday. As for Hardik Pandya, he has raised his game considerably of late. But the allrounder still has some way to go to become poor man’s Kapil Dev.
With the World Cup now approaching its business end, India’s batting – Rohit and Kohli excluded – has started to look vulnerable. That Agarwal has been preferred over Ambati Rayudu – he was an official stand-by – attests this vulnerability; that the team management wants someone who can double up as the third opener. Agarwal made his Test debut in Australia last year and took to the long-form like a duck to water. He is uncapped in white-ball internationals, but his List A strike-rate, north of 100, inspires confidence.
An SOS to Agarwal also suggests that the Indian limited overs set-up has now ostracised Ajinkya Rahane.