With South Africa arriving in the country soon, the Indian selectors face a dilemma when they meet on Thursday to pick the squad for the three test series, which gets underway on October 2nd in Vishakhapatnam, followed by matches at Pune and Ranchi.
Despite being the number one ranked test side in the world, their Achilles heel in recent matches has been their top order which, too often has failed, putting pressure continuously on the middle order to bail the team out, and build a decent total.
In the past 18 months or so, a parade of batsmen – Shikhar Dhawan, Parthiv Patel, KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari – have all been given their chance to open the innings, but none of them has made a convincing enough case to be an automatic selection in the team.
And, with Shaw unavailable currently due to a doping ban, and the experienced pair of Dhawan and Vijay effectively ruled out due to repeated failures, the options available to the selectors appear limited,
Rahul is relatively experienced having played 36 tests, but in a poor run of form, having failed to get past 50 in any of his last seven matches. Meanwhile, his partner in the West Indies, Mayank Agarwal, is still green at this level, with just 4 test caps to his name to date.
One option under consideration is to give Rohit Sharma an opportunity at the top of the order. Sharma opens for India in both ODIs and T20Is, and finished as the leading run scorer in the recent World Cup in England. He is the only player ever to score three double hundreds in ODIs, although he has struggled to date to make much impression at test level, where he has previously batted in the middle order.
He last featured for his country at test level in the series against Australia where he played in two of the four tests, missing one match through injury and another because his wife gave birth to a child.
If the selectors were feeling bold, they could go for youth instead, with two men pressing their claims as future test players in recent weeks.
20 year old Shubman Gill has already played for his country in 2 ODIs and has burnished his credentials with his recent performance in the Caribbean, where he became the youngest batsman to score a double century for an Indian team in a first class match, playing for India A against the West Indies A in Trinidad. He then followed that up with 90 for India A against South Africa A in the first unofficial test match at Thiruvananthapuram earlier this week
An even more left-field inclusion would be the selection of 24 year old Abhimanyu Easwaran, who has scored lots of runs in domestic cricket in recent years for Bengal, and who produced a man of the match innings of 153 to help India Red claim the Duleep Trophy last week.
Gill and Easwaran may have to bide their time, and the selectors may not be ready to risk giving them a chance yet given what is at stake. Still, if their openers continue to fail to perform, it may not be too long before one, or even both of them, are given their opportunity.