The India team, without some of its more familiar faces, will be facing Sri Lanka in two Tests in March 2022, starting with the opener in Mohali. With fresh combinations to try out and a new captain at the helm, the management will have plenty of key selection calls to make.
Here are four selection questions that India face ahead of the first Sri Lanka Test on March 4.
Where does Shubman Gill bat?
Shubman Gill was all set to bat in the middle-order during the New Zealand Test series, before injuries in the India setup meant that he opened the innings in Kanpur. He did bat at No. 3 for India during the second innings of the Mumbai Test and might take up that role in Mohali as well.
At the same time, Mayank Agarwal’s run in South Africa yielded merely 135 runs at an average of 22.5. In case India want to fit in both Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer, they might ask the 22-year-old top-order batter to open with Rohit Sharma.
Who replaces Rahane and Pujara?
After an underwhelming run with the bat over the last two years, India have finally dropped Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, once their middle-order pillars. To replace him, the side features Hanuma Vihari, who has been a part of the setup since 2018, and Shreyas Iyer, who made a spectacular debut last year. However, the exact middle-order configuration will depend on the number of batters in the final XI.
If India do go ahead with only five specialist batters and open with Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma, then one of Vihari or Iyer might have to sit out. There are other factors at play as well: Gill could be given an opportunity at No. 3, while Rishabh Pant might earn a promotion after his fine counter-attacking hundred against South Africa. Another combination would be having Mayank and Gill open, with Rohit dropping to three, although the chances of that are seemingly next to nil.
What will India’s spin attack look like?
When the India squad was announced, it was stated that Ravichandran Ashwin’s availability will be subject to fitness clearance. Ashwin last featured for India in South Africa, and a few questions around his fitness remain, even though the India vice-captain Jasprit Bumrah had said that the spinner was shaping up well in the training sessions. Whether Ashwin makes it or not, India might still go three spinners, depending on the options.
With Ravindra Jadeja locked in as an all-rounder, the other two spin-bowling slots will be filled by the remaining three options. Off-spinning all-rounder Jayant Yadav, who adds a bit of batting to the lower order, is a good like-for-like R Ashwin replacement. Uncapped slow-left arm spinner Saurabh Kumar has been with the extended squad in the past, and boasts of some striking first-class numbers (199 wickets at 24.59). The third name, Kuldeep Yadav, has been a proven performer in the past, is a reliable strike weapon, but is still slowly clawing his way back into Test cricket, having played just two Tests since October 2018.
Who will be India’s first-choice backup seamer?
While given the conditions in India, it is likely that only two seamers will play. Barring any injuries, these should be Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. If India do go ahead with three seamers, or if one of Shami or Bumrah misses out due to any reason, they will have to decide between Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj.
While Umesh is a bit of a home specialist with a bowling average of 25.16 in India, Siraj has impressed across conditions, even ripping apart New Zealand top-order in Mumbai last year. Based on his form over the last year or so, it could be Siraj making the cut if there’s an extra spot waiting.