With one month till the much-anticipated India vs England five-match Test series, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, opening batsmen on the field and best friends off it, are currently in the running to open the batting for India with a solid Rohit Sharma.
Shubman Gill, who suffered a major stress-related shin injury during training sessions after India’s World Test Championship final defeat to New Zealand earlier this week, is all but certain to miss the match. While Gill remains in England until the management decides on his availability, India appears to be amply covered if he returns home.
Mayank Agarwal is a strong and safe contender, which comes as no surprise. His outstanding Test record speaks for itself, with 14 matches and 1052 runs at a respectable average of 45.
However, Agarwal’s recent results have been inconsistent, most recently in Australia during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year. In the six Test innings he played in the series, Agarwal averaged just 13 runs. He frequently fell to an adjusted posture that didn’t quite provide him with the balance he needed to move forward and back against the Australian quicks, leaving him susceptible on the front foot.
However, Agarwal’s career-best score of 243 against Bangladesh in 2019 spoke loudly about his ability to bat for long periods of time. After all, he is India’s first-choice reserve opener and has the attitude to play in that position. If Agarwal can find his form fast, his addition to the top order will be excellent for India, if he can maintain consistency in an ever-changing Indian top-order.
KL Rahul, Shastri’s second choice, hasn’t played for India in a Test match in over two years. Despite multiple opportunities, the Karnataka batter was dropped before of the home series against South Africa due to poor play in 2019.
The competition is fierce, and the opportunities are, to put it mildly, limited. With Mayank Agarwal settling into his new partnership with Rohit Sharma, who was desperate to resurrect his Test career and solidify his place at the top for India, Rahul had no choice but to give Agarwal and Rohit another chance.
Rahul’s inconsistency has pushed him lower down the waiting list, despite A-class players like Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill making impressive debuts for the side recently. Rahul has played as an opener in 54 of the 60 Test innings he has played.
Not to mention the fact that he is the same KL Rahul who made 110 runs in his only Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Rahul has 1,905 Test runs at an average of 35.28 in his career, with 199 being his best.
Although the Limited-Overs star has a wealth of experience, his Test temperament has been called into question, and whether he has solved his issues when facing the new ball remains to be seen. Rahul may not be chosen at the top of the order, but his importance in the middle should not be overlooked.
Who else would it be if not Agarwal or Rahul?
Prithvi Shaw is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. In Australia earlier this year, the 21-year-old star’s technique flaws in the face of fast pace and swing were on display for all to see.
Shubman Gill was an excellent substitute, and his performance in Brisbane cemented his place alongside Rohit at the top. Shaw was returned to the domestic circuit to analyse his batting style and correct his technical flaws.
After a great Vijay Hazare Trophy run for Mumbai earlier this year, he is now expected to sail with India’s second-string team for a series against Sri Lanka. Shaw became the highest run-scorer in a single edition of the tournament with 754 runs, surpassing Mayank Agarwal’s tally of 723 runs in the 2018 event.
If the selectors choose to ignore Agarwal, Rahul, and Shaw, Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran has been on the radar of the selection committee for some time. The 25-year-old has 4401 runs at an average of 43.57 in 64 first-class games, with 18 fifties and 13 centuries to his credit.
Easwaran was a standout performer in the 2018/19 Ranji season, scoring 891 runs at a fantastic average of 95.66, making him one of the most promising debutants for India. However, due to a significant drop in form the next season, selectors decided to wait on him.
In swinging conditions, Shastri and Kohli are unlikely to give Easwaran his first Test cap ahead of some seasoned options. While there appear to be a number of candidates to replace Shubman Gill at the head of the order, Mayank Agarwal appears to be the most likely candidate.