Did India have to recall Rahane? Indian batters who debuted in ‘SENA’ Test matches since 1992
Contrary to popular belief, India selectors have often tried out uncapped specialist batters in South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia.
In an era when every major Test-playing nation barring India seemed to produce at least two leading fast bowlers, handing out a Test cap to an uncapped batter away from home seemed a bold move.
Yet, Sunil Gavaskar debuted in the West Indies and Sachin Tendulkar in Pakistan, and went on to hold the world records for the most runs and hundreds in Test cricket.
In the wake of Ajinkya Rahane’s recall for the World Test Championship, over several uncapped batters with better recent domestic records, here’s a look at batters who have debuted for India in ‘SENA’ countries since 1992.
Ajay Jadeja and Pravin Amre (Durban, 1992/93)
Jadeja had a longer career, even leading India in 13 of his 196 ODIs, but his Test career was restricted to 15 matches. He made three runs on his debut, the first for India in South Africa.
Amre, on the other hand, walked out at 38-4 and saw India slip to 146-7, but made 103 in over six hours against Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Meyrick Pringle, and Brian McMillan to lift India to 277.
Curiously, he played only 11 matches in a Test career lasting less than nine months in a decade when India did not win a single Test outside Asia. However, he did return to South Africa, to spend a season with Boland in 1999/00.
Note: Despite their batting skills, the list does not include the wicketkeepers, Deep Dasgupta (debuted in Bloemfontein 2000/01) and Rishabh Pant (Trent Bridge 2018); or Washington Sundar (Brisbane 2020/21), who averages 66.25 with the bat and 49.83 with the ball in Test cricket at the time of writing.
Vikram Rathour and – hear us out – Sunil Joshi (Edgbaston, 1996)
Rathour played only six Test matches without making a fifty, but his inclusion in a Test match of seven debutants probably made more sense than Joshi’s, who would finish with 41 Test wickets at 35.85 and the third-highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy history.
The reason Joshi makes it to this list is he batted at seven in each innings and did not bowl a single ball in the entire Test match. A quarter of a century later, what makes his selection even more baffling is the Test match that followed.
Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid (Lord’s, 1996)
Ganguly replaced Sanjay Manjrekar and made 131 at Lord’s (and 136 in his second Test, at Trent Bridge). Dravid came in for – presumably – his Karnataka teammate Joshi to make 95 and, at Trent Bridge, 84.
Dravid would finish with 13,265 Test runs and Ganguly 7,212. They both went on to lead India as well.
Hrishikesh Kanitkar (Melbourne, 1999/00)
Kanitkar had been playing ODIs since 1997/98, but his Test debut came in Melbourne after India had been blown away at Adelaide. He made 11 and 45 on debut. The second innings effort second to only Tendulkar’s 52 as India went down for 195 in pursuit of 376.
He made 10 and 8 at Sydney, and like his father Hemant, ended with two Test matches. He was one of four Indians (Devang Gandhi, MSK Prasad, and Vijay Bharadwaj were the others) whose Test careers ended on that tour.
Virender Sehwag (Bloemfontein, 2001/02)
Coming out at 68-4 to face Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, & co. on a fast, bouncy surface is not the ideal debut for someone who has grown up on slower pitches.
Unlike Amre nearly a decade before him, Sehwag had Tendulkar at the other end, uppercutting the bouncers like he never had in Test cricket until then. Taking a leaf out of his idol’s book, Sehwag slammed 105 in a mere 173 balls.
He would open batting in less than a year’s time, lead India, and by the time of his retirement, hold the three highest individual scores for them in Test cricket.
KL Rahul (Melbourne, 2014/15)
India were one down in the series, and with Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane in the top five, India drafted in KL Rahul for Rohit Sharma at No.6 for the third Test of the series.
Rahul made 3 and 1. Opening in the next match, in Sydney, he got 110 and 16, and followed that with 7 and 5; 108 and 2; 2 and 2; and 158 – an arithmetic mean of 37.63 but a median of 5 – setting a tone of the inconsistency that would define his Test career. He would also lead India.
Hanuma Vihari (The Oval, 2018)
Vihari debuted in the fifth Test match, after England had already clinched the series 3-1. He came to bat at 103-4 and made a fifty, and dismissed Joe Root and Alastair Cook off consecutive balls en route to a third-innings 3-37.
He has batted at five different positions across 16 Test matches, 13 of which have come in ‘SENA’ countries.
Mayank Agarwal (Melbourne, 2018/19)
After losing the Perth Test match of the 2018/19 tour, India replaced both openers, Vijay and Rahul. They pushed Vihari to the top for the first time (Rohit had still not assumed that role), and paired him with Agarwal, who impressed with 76 and 42 and, in the next Test, 77.
India won the first of these and drew the next to win a Test series in Australia for the first time. Agarwal continued to amass runs, and after eight Test matches, his average stood at 71.50. However, he managed only 26.50 across the next 13.
He was in contention until he became injured during the England tour of 2021. His replacement (and old friend) Rahul grabbed the chance with both hands, but Agarwal’s recall may not be far away.
Shubman Gill (Melbourne, 2020/21)
After being bowled out for 36 in Adelaide, India replaced Prithvi Shaw at the top with his India Under-19 teammate Shubman Gill, one of the most-talked-about uncapped Indian batting stars since Tendulkar.
Gill lived up to the expectations as India pulled off one of the most remarkable series wins of all time. He contributed in each of the three Test matches (45 and 35* in Melbourne; 50 and 31 in Sydney; 7 and 91 in Brisbane). The maiden Test hundred did take its time, but 15 Tests and multiple limited-over records later, Test cricket greatness seems a matter of time.