Out of form opener KL Rahul has been axed for India’s upcoming three-match Test series against South Africa while Punjab’s Shubman Gill has been handed a maiden Test call-up, the selectors announced on Thursday (September 12).
Gill is the only addition to an otherwise similar 15-member squad that blanked the West Indies 2-0 last month. Umesh Yadav has been dropped while there is no place for Hardik Pandya in the side. Indian chief selector MSK Prasad also confirmed that Rohit Sharma will be bumped up to open the innings alongside Mayank Agarwal. This will be the first time Rohit will open in Tests having earlier played in the middle-order.
Rohit will also lead a Board President’s XI side in a three-day practice match against South Africa. This side includes the likes of Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal, Mayank Agarwal and Jalaj Saxena.
Gill, who earlier this year made his One-Day International debut against New Zealand, has been rewarded with a Test call-up owing to his phenomenal first-class season.
He was Punjab’s top run-getter in the Ranji Trophy last year, amassing 728 runs in just five outings at an average of 104, which included four half-centuries and two hundreds. His 268 against Tamil Nadu was the knock which had turned the most eyeballs.
Gill first burst into public consciousness at the Under-19 World Cup in 2018 and his stock has risen rather rapidly post that. He played a pivotal role for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL before churning out impressive numbers both for his state side and India A. The 20-year-old tonked 204* against West Indies A in Tarouba in August while more recently stroked 90 against the touring South Africa A.
In all, Gill has played 14 first-class games in which he has scored 1443 runs at an average of 72.14 which includes eight half-centuries and four tons.
Rahul’s axing comes on the back of a run of poor scores, especially in the longest format. He has looked a pale shadow of his 2017 self when he recorded nine 50-plus scores in 14 innings. In his last 12 innings, Rahul has managed to cross 40 just twice and has often looked susceptible outside the off-stump. He was found wanting quite often by West Indies pacer Kemar Roach, with scores of 13, 6, 44 and 38 hardly justifying the talent he possesses.
Rahul averaged a meagre 17.72 in Test cricket in the last one year and with the Ranji season coming up in a few months’ time, it might be good for him to go back and try to regain some of his lost touch.
Another talking point in the 15-member squad is Rohit opening the innings. With Hanuma Vihari and Ajinkya Rahane cementing their place in the middle-order, Rohit failed to find a spot in the two Tests in the Caribbean. But with Rahul out of touch, Rohit - who opens the batting in both ODIs and T20Is - has found support for his inclusion at the top of the order in the Test side as well.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rahane and Vihari will form the crux of the batting order while R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja will handle the spin duties. The fast bowling unit will once again be led by Jasprit Bumrah with Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma to back him up.
Rishabh Pant, despite a middling performance in the Tests against West Indies, is likely to be picked as the lead wicketkeeper with Wriddhiman Saha as backup.
The last time South Africa were on Indian shores back in 2015, they lost the four-match Test series 3-0. The Proteas though got their revenge in 2017 when they beat India 2-1 in a three-match series at home.
The first Test will be played at the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam from October 2-6 before the teams travel to Pune and Ranchi for the second and third Tests respectively.
India Squad: Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha, Shubman Gill
Board President’s XI Squad: Rohit Sharma (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Karun Nair, Siddhesh Lad, KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Jalaj Saxena, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Avesh Khan, Ishan Porel, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav