How do India rejig their WTC final squad if KL Rahul is ruled out?
@swaris16 5 minute read
KL Rahul injured his hip flexor during an IPL 2023 clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore. If one goes by reports, the Lucknow Super Giants captain has been ruled out for the rest of the season, and is in doubt for the World Test Championship final against Australia. How do India rejig the squad if he misses out?
Rahul was replaced by Shubman Gill in the XI for the last two Tests against Australia in March. He was even stripped of vice-captaincy during the series following a string of low Test match scores. He failed to cross 25 in his last 10 innings and averaged 15.90 since the start of 2022, but was named in India’s WTC final squad, presumably based on his excellent tour of England in 2021.
India’s WTC final squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KS Bharat (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Mohammad Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul (subject to fitness), Jaydev Unadkat (subject to fitness)
Rahul’s injury has put the Indian camp in a spot of bother. He was one of the three openers in the squad (alongside captain Rohit Sharma and Gill), and apart from KS Bharat, the only one with any wicketkeeping experience.
Rahul might not have played the final after Gill’s 128 at Ahmedabad in the previous Test match and Bharat’s reasonable series behind the stumps against Australia, but he was the backup option for more than one player. His potential absence, thus, leaves the selectors with a tough task.
India have gone ahead with eight bowlers, of whom four can bat, in their 15-member squad for one Test match, and it can be argued that the batting looks a little short-handed. They can only bring in one replacement player into the official touring party – ideally an opening wicketkeeper, but the lack of options makes it tricky.
The only keeper on the fringes who can also open the innings is Ishan Kishan, although he has been batting down the order for Jharkhand in first-class cricket of late, though he used open batting when he had burst onto the scene.
Kishan has also not been the primary keeper for Jharkhand in the last two seasons and played only two Ranji Trophy games in 2022/23, but he did keep wickets in South Africa during the India A series in 2021. There, he made 49 and 91 in the two ‘Tests’ and grabbed six catches, so it is not a job that he is not accustomed to.
But while Kishan has the experience of playing against quality pacers in the IPL, where he opens and keeps wicket, keeping in a Test match is – literally and otherwise – a different ball game.
Kishan was selected for the Australia Tests but not for the WTC final. He has a first-class average of 38.76 and is arguably not among the finest keepers in India.
Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Abhimanyu Easwaran may make the squad as openers. Gaikwad, picked in the reserves for the WTC final, has played only 28 first-class games in his career, and averages just over 42. Easwaran has been around the India setup for a while before the selectors moved on, without giving him a chance.
Jaiswal has been in brilliant form in the IPL and averages over 80 in first-class cricket, where he bats at No.3. Neither, however, keeps wicket in first-class cricket, and drafting them into the main squad will leave India without a back-up gloveman. A last-minute injury to Bharat may prove to be disastrous for the team.
The best bet for India, then, would be to draft a wicketkeeper with relevant experience and practice. Cheteshwar Pujara has opened for India in the past, most recently against England in the fifth Test last year when both Rahul and Rohit were injured. Currently in terrific form for Sussex, he may the role again in case of an injury. Wicketkeeping, however, is a more specialised role.
Wriddhiman Saha is the most experienced keeper in the ranks. While his batting form has fallen off in this IPL, he has been outstanding behind the stumps, revoking old memories with terrific catches, demonstrating great reflex and athleticism.
Saha last played for India in December 2021, and selecting a 38-year-old may come across as a backward step. At the same time, India have called up Ajinkya Rahane for the final, presumably because this is a one-match affair, and putting their best combination on the park as they look for their first world title since 2013 should be the priority.
The outside bets are Sarfaraz Khan and Upendra Yadav. The latter has been rising up the ranks of late. He averages 45.02 in 37 first-class games, and has been the India A gloveman since Bharat travelled with the Test squad. He was also picked as the wicketkeeper for Rest of India for this year’s Irani Cup match against Madhya Pradesh. He impressed against Bangladesh A in 2022/23, scoring 71 not out and grabbing five catches on a tough, spinning pitch.
Sarfaraz’s rise has been making waves in the world of cricket – with a 2,000-run cut-off, he has the second-best batting average in the history of first-class cricket – but it is unlikely that India would push two youngsters into the squad in a crucial game straightaway.
An option also opens up for India if pacer Jaydev Unadkat is ruled out from the WTC final. He will miss the 2023 IPL due to an injury and is in doubt for the game against Australia. Currently, India have as many as eight bowling options, including five seam options in the squad. All are, of course, unlikely to play. If Unadkat fails to recover in time, they will also have the choice of adding an extra batter to the team with a wicketkeeper replacing Rahul. That will not only improve the balance of the squad but also ensure India are not thrown into the deep end in case of a crisis at the eleventh hour.