Shubman Gill was chosen ICC Player of the Month for January following a series of impressive innings in the limited-overs format. But despite scoring 567 runs, including three centuries, his graceful and flamboyant batting failed to fetch him a place in the XI for the opening Test versus Australia in Nagpur.
KL Rahul, making a return following a short break, took his place as an opener alongside Rohit Sharma. The India vice-captain’s painstaking 20 off 71 balls was enough to draw criticism since the in-form Gill had also slammed a century in Bangladesh when India played their last Test series.
The convincing victory in Nagpur following Rohit’s match-winning century and useful contributions from the late-order is sure to prod the team management to retain the combination for the second Test in Delhi from Friday.
There had been no significant contribution from the top order apart from Rohit’s innings. While India did manage to get away because of the Australians’ vulnerability against spin in challenging conditions, it may not be the same on every occasion.
Remember the way England turned it around in 2012 after losing the first Test on a treacherous Ahmedabad pitch by nine wickets. It would be naive to discount such a possibility against Pat Cummins’ men since they would have learnt the lessons the hard way in Nagpur after being rolled for just 91 in their second innings.
The presence of a settled top order is essential to maintain the balance in the team. You can’t expect your lower-order batters to do the rescue act every time.
An in-form batter’s presence at the top is thus expected to ensure more stability to the batting order.
Former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad created quite a stir with a series of tweets during the first Test accusing the national selectors and the team management of “favouritism” towards Rahul. Prasad felt his fellow Bangalorean had been “consistently inconsistent” amid the presence of talented batters.
But former India captain Sunil Gavaskar rose to Rahul’s defence. “I feel the way he has batted in the last 1-2 years, he performed well. I feel he should be given one more chance,” the legendary opener said recently.
Rahul’s last century came at Centurion in December 2021. Since that Test, he has gone through 10 innings with only one half-century to show.
Rahul’s tentative batting has invited lots of criticism with even former coach Ravi Shastri voting for Gill.
“Someone’s hitting it real sweet and it’s coming out of the centre of the bat... I’ve been watching Gill and Rahul very closely in the nets. If it’s a hard call... I see footwork, when I see timing as to who is batting better. If it has to be Shubman ahead of Rahul, so be it... I won’t say that Rahul is the vice-captain so he becomes the automatic choice,” Shastri said.
There’s no doubt that time is running out for Rahul. Unless he can make it count at the Kotla, the pressure on the team management to bench him and play Gill instead will grow.
Gill’s batting against spin has always been regarded highly. Even Ravichandran Ashwin rated him as one of the best in the business in domestic cricket.
The way Gill uses his feet against the spinners makes him a strong contender in subcontinent conditions. His hundred in Bangladesh showed his class and ability to adjust to the conditions.
This series is a make-or-break case for Rahul — either cement the opener’s slot or fall by the wayside. But what can’t be ignored is Rahul’s successful record in England if India make the World Test Championship final at The Oval in June.
The conditions will be vastly different and the fact that Rahul has significant centuries at The Oval and Lord’s in his previous two tours also has to be taken into consideration.
The presence of plenty of riches can at times turn out to be tricky.