Shubman Gill has won his first Test call-up on Thursday as India announced their squad for the home series against South Africa. The former Under-19 World Cup winner replaced KL Rahul from the team that went to the Caribbean recently, which means India will be trialling a new opening combination when the series starts on October 2.
Mayank Agarwal kept his spot at the top of the order but there has been a lot of speculation over who will partner him. Rohit Sharma‘s name had done the rounds in the lead-up to the squad being named, with former captain Sourav Ganguly and one-time IPL team-mate Adam Gilchrist among those supporting his promotion up the Indian batting order. Then the man himself expressed his desire to do the job and chief selector MSK Prasad was happy to give Rohit all three Tests against South Africa to make his case.
“Yes, we are definitely looking at him [as an opener], and we want to give him an opportunity,” Prasad said. “He [himself] is keen, and all of us in the selection committee are keen [as well]. We want to push him, and give him some opportunities up the order, and see where he stands, and then we will take a call.
“He has been opening in white-ball cricket for more than a decade [since 2013]. We feel he has the ability to bat up the order, we have seen that in white-ball cricket, and if he can do that in red-ball cricket, then nothing like it. We have a lot of practice matches coming up, which will be a boost to this side.”
This continues a lengthy second coming for Rohit, who last year said he had made peace with the start-stop nature of his Test career. It was 2010 when he was supposed to don the India whites for the first time, but an ankle injury threw a spanner into those plans. He finally made that long-awaited debut three years later against West Indies and smashed back-to-back centuries, suggesting that he was more than ready for the step up to the longest format. However, issues against the moving ball have restricted him to 27 Test appearances, prompting him to go rather philosophical last May.
“There’s limited time you have as a player and I have finished almost half of it. There’s no point in spending the remaining half thinking whether I’ll be picked or not. I am going forward with the theory of ‘whatever time I have, make it count’,” Rohit told PTI, referring to his record in international red-ball cricket.
Gill, meanwhile, has been banging the door down to India’s Test team for a while. In July, the 20 year-old had expressed his disappointment at not being selected for India’s tour of the West Indies, saying he expected to be there in at least one of the squads. He responded by scoring an unbeaten 204 off just 248 balls after coming in at 14 for 3 against West Indies A in the third four-day game. Earlier this week, captaining India A against South Africa A in Thiruvananthapuram, Gill scored 90 in the first innings.
In 14 first-class matches so far, Gill has amassed 1443 runs at an average of 72.15 with a highest score of 268. In Ranji Trophy 2018-19, he was the top-scorer for Punjab with 728 runs at an average of 104 despite playing only five games.
“He has done well both as an opener and in the middle order, so he can be a back-up for both the slots,” Prasad said. “That’s the reason when KL [Rahul] was dropped out, we had given him the opportunity, but as he keeps playing he’ll get more opportunities because he’s a player for all three formats.”
Speaking specifically on Rahul, Prasad added: “To tell you the truth, I think he’s an exceptional talent. We backed him, but his form has definitely dipped in red-ball cricket. With Shikhar not there, Murali Vijay has gone out, so you need to stick with one opener. You just can’t keep changing both the openers in the side. Probably with the seniors [having] exited, KL has got more opportunities but unfortunately he was not delivering consistently, and only delivering in patches. And even during those patches you could see that brilliance in him, so that gives you confidence ‘Come on, let’s back him.’ When he’s on song, he’s a treat to watch. Whoever we give an opportunity now, we will give them a fair run. We have created a bench-strength succession chart in each department in all formats.”
The rest of the team lines up as it did in the Caribbean, where Virat Kohli became India’s most successful Test captain after winning the series 2-0. Jasprit Bumrah leads the fast bowling attack alongside Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami. Both Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, and Kuldeep Yadav too, can expect more game time with the three Tests being played in spin-friendly Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi. Rishabh Pant lines up as first-choice wicketkeeper while fast bowler Umesh Yadav has been pushed out.