India’s preparation for their upcoming Test against England at Edgbaston was disrupted by the news that their captain Rohit Sharma has tested positive for Covid-19, casting doubt over his potential involvement in Birmingham.
The BCCI announced that Rohit had tested positive on Saturday evening, six days out from the Test. With vice-captain and fellow opener KL Rahul already out of the Test through injury, it is not immediately obvious how India will go about replacing Rohit should he remain unavailable.
Firstly, Shubman Gill is almost certain to open the batting. Gill, 22, has played 10 Tests without reaching three figures but was mightily impressive during India’s famous 2-1 win Down Under in 2020/21, averaging over 50 from his three appearances across the series.
KS Bharat is the most likely candidate to open the batting alongside Gill. Bharat – an uncapped wicketkeeper-batter – opened in the second innings of India’s warm-up fixture against Leicestershire, scoring 43 after a first innings unbeaten 70 from No. 7.
Hanuma Vihari is another option from within the current squad. Though predominantly a middle order batter, it’s a role he has performed before, opening the batting for India in the 2020 Boxing Day Test at the MCG. The recently recalled Cheteshwar Pujara is another candidate; the 34-year-old averages nearly 100 from his five Tests as an opener.
It is also possible (but unlikely) that India fly someone in from their T20I squad that is playing two T20Is in Ireland before the start of the Edgbaston Test.
How India deal with the captaincy should Rohit remain unavailable is intriguing. If the decision was based purely off experience, Virat Kohli would be the clear frontrunner having captained India in more Tests than anyone else in their history as a Test nation. It would arguably also be fitting, considering he led India to a 2-1 series lead in 2021, with this Test the postponed decider for that rubber. Rishabh Pant has considerable IPL captaincy experience and has also done the job for India in five T20Is for India this year.
Jasprit Bumrah has never captained India before in any format but could be asked to fill in for Rohit, and is possibly more likely to than Pant. Bumrah was the side’s official vice-captain for their home series against Sri Lanka earlier in the year in Rahul’s absence.
While India have options to replace Rohit both as a batter and a captain, it’s worth emphasising how significant his absence would be for the tourists. Since he took over the full-time captaincy, India have won every game in which he has led. He scored two hundreds in the 2021 portion of this series, securing a Wisden Cricketer of the Year award for his efforts. Since his promotion to opening the batting in 2019, he has averaged 55.42, with five hundreds in 18 Tests.