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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Mayank Agarwal ruled out of first Test, No.3 Pujara not to be promoted: Ajinkya Rahane

Another England tour, another opening problem for India as Mayank Agarwal is ruled out of the first Test against England with a head injury.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: August 2, 2021 10:09:22 pm
Agarwal was apparently hit on the back of his head when he took his eyes off a short ball and took a blow on his helmet (AP File Photo)

India have an opening problem after Mayank Agarwal is ruled out of the first Test against England with a head injury. Two days prior to the first Test, Agarwal was hit on the helmet at the nets and suffered concussion. The BCCI has informed that the 30-year-old is “stable” but he will remain under “close medical attention”. With the first Test of the five-match series starting at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, India need to find an opening partner for Rohit Sharma.

Agarwal was the like-for-like replacement for the injured Shubman Gill whose England tour was cut short following a stress injury on his left leg. KL Rahul and Abhimanyu Easwaran are the two designated opening options available to the team management to partner Rohit. The BCCI has sent Prithvi Shaw, along with Suryakumar Yadav, to England but he will be available only from the second Test onwards after serving a mandatory 10-day quarantine period.

India have lost their last three Test series in England and the opening void is a setback for the tourists ahead of the Trent Bridge Test. Two days out, the pitch looks green and the conditions are expected to be lopsided in favour of England. Rahul hasn’t played a Test for close to two years now but he is fresh from a 101, batting at No. 5, against County Select XI – a warm-up fixture in the lead-up to the first Test. Interestingly, the selectors picked him for the tour as a middle-order choice.

Easwaran has been with the squad for two months now but he is seriously undercooked, having played his last first-class game in early March 2020.

This might force the Indian team management to consider a makeshift option, although vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane ruled out the possibility of Cheteshwar Pujara opening the innings with Rohit. Pujara has opened in Tests before, scoring 348 runs in four matches, including a hundred, in that position. Also, in the warm-up game against County Select XI, he came as an opener in the second innings and scored 38. Pujara has the technique to blunt James Anderson and company in swing-friendly conditions. But the team management appears to be reluctant to change his batting order.

“See, Pujara is our No. 3 batsman. Who will open the innings, we are finalising our combination. It’s not finalised yet. Pujara has been really solid for us as (a) No. 3 batsman, so he will continue to bat at No. 3. But as an opening pair, obviously captain, coach (and) management will decide the combination and you will get to know soon,” Rahane said at a press conference on Monday.

Hanuma Vihari, too, has opened the innings in Tests before. Three years ago in Melbourne, he partnered Agarwal at the top in a Boxing Day Test and scored eight and 13 in the two innings. The advantage for Vihari is that he has done a decent bedding-in for the England series with a short county stint for Warwickshire, where he mostly batted at No. 3. He also acquired some valuable batting minutes during the warm-up game, coming at No. 4 and No. 3 respectively in the two innings. It needs to be seen if Vihari pairs up with Rohit at Trent Bridge.

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