From the despair of the 'Summer of 36' in Adelaide just over a week ago to the delirium of a famous win in Melbourne, India’s wildly fluctuating fortunes in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series couldn’t have lent more authenticity to cricket’s time-tested definition - a game of glorious uncertainties.
Few teams have endured the manner of India’s defeat in the opening Test in over half a century, even fewer have managed to overcome such deep scars in such quick time. While India found several heroes that contributed to the series-levelling eight-wicket win over Australia on Tuesday, they will seriously ponder over the playing XI for the Sydney Test, starting Jan. 7.
To start with, they will have to find a suitable replacement for the injured Umesh Yadav if the pacer doesn’t recover in time. And with Rohit Sharma - who joined the Indian team on Wednesday after being in hard-quarantine in Sydney - available for selection, it remains to be seen if the team management is keen to fit him into the XI.
“We will have a chat with him to see where he is placed physically because he has been in quarantine for the last couple of weeks,” said head coach Ravi Shastri. “Also got to see how he feels before we take the call.”
With Shastri asserting that India won’t compromise on their five-bowler combination, they will have to bench a batsman to accommodate the Mumbaikar. Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari are the two obvious targets following four and three low scores respectively, but who goes out will depend on where the team management wants Rohit to bat in the current set-up.
If they want stability at the top, then Agarwal - who has managed 31 so far - will have to go out. And if they want to beef up the middle, Vihari - who has gathered 45 runs - will have to make way.
Opening great Sunil Gavaskar feels Rohit should open with Agarwal, which means Shubman Gill will have to drop down while Vihari makes an exit. Rohit did enjoy great success as Test opener in the home series against South Africa last year, but facing the new ball in Australia is as tricky as tackling the old ball on wearing Indian pitches. Plus, he is coming off an injury and quarantine-forced lengthy break following the IPL, which concluded on Nov. 10.
While Agarwal, despite his first real lean patch in Tests since his debut in Melbourne in December 2018, is still a bankable batsman at the top of the tree, it will augur well for India if the Karnataka batsman comes good in Sydney. It will not only do a world of good to his confidence, but also India’s as they play the final Test at the Gabba, perhaps the paciest and bounciest of the traditional Australian Test venues.
What should also be noted is that Rohit struck an unbeaten 63 in his last Test in Australia, batting at No. 6, in Sydney two years ago. It, therefore, won’t be outlandish to suggest that Rohit, if he is indeed in the scheme of things, should replace Vihari and bat in the middle order while Agarwal and Gill retain the opening slots. Having replaced Prithvi Shaw, Gill displayed admirable temperament and confidence in the Boxing Day Test and it makes perfect sense to have him face the new ball again.