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India's selection dilemmas ahead of 1st Test vs England: Who opens with Rohit Sharma? Does Pujara find a spot?

Indian management do have a few questions and dilemmas to answer before picking their XI for the England Test series opener on August 4 in Nottingham.

Aratrick Mondal Aratrick Mondal
New Delhi Published on: August 03, 2021 9:00 IST
Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma
Image Source : GETTY

Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma

With India having picked their best XI for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand earlier in June, few would expect the management to have selection headaches when Virat Kohli's men begin the five-Test series against England in Nottingham, the venue where they had won a Test when India last toured the nation in 2018. Yet, there are a few questions and dilemmas that Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri will have to scatch their head before the start of their opener on August 4. 

Who opens with Rohit Sharma?

With Shubman Gill out of the series, Mayank Agarwal was considered the first-choice option to partner Rohit in the opening slot for the England Test series, but the batsman has been ruled out of the first Test due to a concussion, after being hit on his helmet at the nets. With Mayank out, India have three options for the top slot with KL Rahul being the most preferred choice. Earlier last month, Rahul had proven his ability as a Test player with a sensational hundred in the three-day practice game in Durham. He had earlier scored a century as well, opening for Indian at the Oval in the 2018 tour. However, it has been made clear on quite a few occasions that India have picked Rahul as a middle-order option.

India also have Hanuma Vihari as an option along with Cheteshwar Pujara who did play the role in the second innings of the practice game alongside Mayank. Prithvi Shaw could also have been in the reckoning for the spot, but isn't available for the opener after the covid fiasco in Sri Lanka. Not to forget, India also have Abhimanyu Easwaran in the stand-by list.

Does Pujara find a spot?

A poor county season and lack of runs in the build-up to the 2018 England tour saw Pujara missing from India's XI for the Test series opener. Pujara did bounce back thereafter with a phenomenal performance in the Australia series Down Under later that year, but in 18 Tests since, India's no.3 has failed to score a century and has averaged only 28.03.

It is most likely that India will fit Pujara into the XI for the opener owing to the absence of Mayank at the top. But if Pujara fails to make the best of the Nottingham Test, with Mayank returning for the second Test, India might be tempted to go with Ajinkya Rahane at No.4 and play Rahul at No.5. 

In a nutshell, the England series might be Pujara's last opportunity to prove his worth again. 

Ashwin or Jadeja or both?

Since 2018, Jadeja and Ashwin have been among the top wicket-takers in Test cricket in SENA countries. Ashwin has picked 43 wickets, the second most after Nathan Lyon's 101, in 12 Tests at 28.83. These numbers only reflect the immense improvement that Ashwin has shown on overseas soil. Until the end of 2017, Ashwin picked only 24 wickets in 9 Tests at 56.58 in SENA nations, the reason why he found critics pointing fingers at him each time he picked a five-wicket haul in favourable conditions. Jadeja, on the other hand, pulled off 24 dismissals in 7 Tests since 2018, at 27.25 with a strike rate of 58.4. Moreover, the presence of the two provides India with a batting depth until No.8. 

Any place for Mohammed Siraj or Shardul Thakur?

India were tempted to play Siraj in the WTC final, but the experienced trio of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah made a bigger case for selection. India may not have a spot for him in the opener, but it's a long series in England and Siraj will always be the first choice option when either of three incurs an injury. Shardul Thakur will also be a tempting option given his ability to bat, which makes his case stronger among the aforementioned four.

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