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England v India

Ranked: India’s emergency opening options in the absence of Mayank Agarwal

India opening England
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Mayank Agarwal‘s chance to reclaim his spot as Test opener came to a sudden halt following an injury during practice, renewing the debate on India’s opening combination two nights ahead of the first Test.

Mayank copped a blow after being hit by a Mohammed Siraj bouncer on his helmet in a practice session on Monday, and showed signs of concussion, requiring immediate monitoring from the medical staff. He became the second frontline opener to miss out, after Shubman Gill was sidelined from the series following a leg injury.

A look at the options in front of the team for the Trent Bridge Test, ranked by partner Rohit Sharma, the other first-choice opener.

KL Rahul

A frontrunner to fill in the role on two counts: he has extensive experience of facing the new ball, having opened in Australia, South Africa, West Indies and England, and he looks to be in form. In the tour game, he scored an unbeaten 101 to put forth a strong statement, but the innings came at No.5, and he hasn’t opened for India in the last two years. All in all, he looks like the strongest candidate from the available options.

Hanuma Vihari

If a player deserves a spot based on their last outing in Test colours, it’s Vihari. His once-in-a-lifetime knock against Australia was built on resilience and patience in Sydney, traits that would form the gist of an opener’s role in England. In the past, Vihari has stepped up as a makeshift opener, facing a combined 111 balls across two innings in Australia two seasons ago. In terms of pure skill, Vihari is a reliable option, and also carries the additional advantage of playing County cricket in England in the past few months.

Abhimanyu Easwaran

As a proper specialist opener in the squad, Easwaran should be the logical choice to fill in for injury. However, the lack of experience works against him – being part of the reserves list, he falls below the pecking order when it comes to existing options in the squad. If given a chance, it would be a much-deserved reward for the technically proficient batsman, averaging 43.17 in first-class cricket. Ahead of the opening Test, Easwaran went through the ordeal of isolation, after being in close contact with Dayanand Garani, who tested positive for Covid-19, but is now fit and available for selection.

Cheteshwar Pujara

Pujara would be higher up the list before Monday’s pre-match presser featuring Ajinkya Rahane, but the vice-captain emphatically stated that Pujara was India’s No.3 batsman when asked about the possibility of him opening. Pujara has stepped up to the opener’s role in the past, scoring an unbeaten 145 in Sri Lanka the last time he took up the spot, but that was six years ago. Any which way, being a No.3 batsman, Pujara is well-versed with the challenges of facing the new ball, even though India would want to not create further complications by displacing their rock from his usual spot.

Out of race: Prithvi Shaw

Rudely discarded after a poor showing in Australia, Prithvi Shaw worked his way back into the Indian team following a rich run of form in white-ball cricket, featuring in the ODIs and T20I series in Sri Lanka. The cycle seemed complete when he was summoned to England as an emergency replacement, but the timeline took a hit when both were deemed close contacts to Krunal Pandya, who tested positive for Covid-19 in Sri Lanka. Now, Shaw is likely to fly out to the UK the same time the first Test begins, delaying his participation in the tour.

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