KL Rahul dropped, Gill gets call-up

KL Rahul was dropped from the Test squad after a prolonged drought. AFP file photo

Young Shubman Gill replaced an out-of-form KL Rahul to earn his maiden Test call for the upcoming three-Test series against South Africa at home, starting October 2.

With Rohit Sharma getting the selectors' nod for the opening slot, India are also set to field a new opening pair against the Proteas. Mayank Agarwal is the only other specialist Test opener in the 15-member squad, which is without seamer Umesh Yadav.

Rohit will be leading the Board President's XI, too, against South Africa in the warm-up match on September 26 in Vizianagaram, where he will be opening the innings. “He (Rohit) is keen and all of us in the selection committee also want to give him some opportunities up the order and see where things stand and then we will take a call, “ Chief selector MSK Prasad told reporters.

“He has been opening in the white-ball cricket for more than a decade now. We feel he has the ability to bat up the order. If he can do that in the red ball then nothing like it. We have a lot of Test matches coming up and it will be a big boost to the side.

Gill will be a back-up for the opening slot as well as in the middle-order. “With regard to Shubman Gill, he has done well both as an opener and in the middle order. So he can be a back-up for both the slots.”

Gill's statistics are staggering in first-class cricket. In the 14 matches, he has collected 1443 runs at an average of 72.15 with highest score of 268. The 20-year-old has expressed disappointment after being ignored for the tour to West Indies before going on to score an unbeaten 204 off 248 balls against West Indies 'A' in the third four-day game. 

Prasad said Rahul, who has scored only one Test hundred in over 18 months, was given a fair run but he delivered in patches. “He is an exceptional talent. We backed him, but his form has definitely dipped in red-ball cricket. With Shikhar and Murali Vijay not there, you need to stick with one opener. You just can't keep changing both the openers in the side. Probably with the seniors' exit, KL has got more opportunities but unfortunately, he was not delivering consistently. Even during those patches, you could see that brilliance in him, so that gives you confidence 'Come on, let's back him.' When he's on song, he's a treat to watch."

Prasad said they have created a bench-strength succession chart in each department in all formats. "Whoever gets an opportunity, also gets a fair run. We have Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran, who are doing extremely well. We will look at giving them as many opportunities.”

Prasad also gave a strong indication they might rely on the experience of Wriddhiman Saha during the home series. Asked who is the first choice wicket-keeper, Prasad said: “Rishabh (Pant) definitely to begin with but we will see whether the team management thinks on those lines. Let's leave it to them. Also in India, we need a 'keeper with some more skills playing at home.”

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