Updated: July 1, 2022 6:50:12 pm
Now that Rohit Sharma has been ruled out of the Birmingham Test after another positive Covid test, what should be India’s playing XI at Edgbaston on Friday? India have decisions to make about their team composition throughout the line-up: who should open along with Shubman Gill in Rohit’s absence, who should bat either side of Virat Kohli at No 4, whether to play two spinners or one, and consequent upon that, who should be the third or fourth fast bowler.
Who will open with Gill?
Shubman Gill hasn’t played Test cricket since December, but being the only specialist opener left in the squad until Mayank Agarwal’s late arrival, it appears likely that he will be one of the openers at Edgbaston.
India have had to rush Mayank Agarwal to England, and the Karnataka batsman is, in fact, the incumbent opener, having done duty with skipper Rohit Sharma in the previous Test series against Sri Lanka at home in March. But the question is, will a couple of net sessions be enough preparation for a potentially historic series decider?
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India do have a few makeshift opening options available, in Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari and KS Bharat. Cheteshwar Pujara opened in the second innings of the Mumbai Test last year against New Zealand as Gill was injured, and has served in the role a few times in the past. Hanuma Vihari opened famously in the Melbourne Test in 2018, but that is the only time he has done the job at this level.
It would be one tough debut if Bharat is made to open, but he does have the experience of having batted mostly in the top order for Andhra in first-class cricket. He also opened against Leicestershire in the second innings of the warm-up match last week, and faced 98 deliveries to make 43.
Who will be Kohli’s middle-order colleagues?
If Agarwal opens, India will have to take a call on who to leave out of the middle order. Pujara was in scintillating form for Sussex in county cricket in April and May, and has substantial experience in English conditions. So Edgbaston is likely to be his comeback Test after he was left out for the Sri Lanka series.
Which means India will have to leave out one of Shreyas Iyer or Vihari. Twelve of Vihari’s 15 Tests have come outside Asia, while all four of Shreyas Iyer’s Tests have been home ones. So Iyer might be the one sitting out. However, if India go for Pujara as the opener instead of Agarwal, Iyer might come into the XI, with Vihari moving up to No 3.
Two spinners or one?
The spin equation is going to be a tricky one. Ravindra Jadeja was the preferred choice in the 2021 leg of this series, but Ravichandran Ashwin picked up seven England wickets in the previous Test India played at Edgbaston in 2018. This has been a drier English summer, with surfaces producing more runs as well as assisting spinners more. But a few showers are forecast for the first three days of this Test.
If both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja play, like they did in the World Test Championship Final against New Zealand, India will have to pick between Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav for the third pacer’s slot, as stand-in captain Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are certainties. Mohammed Siraj usually provides more control, and that might get him the nod ahead of Umesh Yadav.
If only one of Ashwin and Jadeja plays, India will look at getting in Shardul Thakur as the fourth seamer who can also bat a bit at No 8.
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