The new year hasn't been the perfect start for Team India in Australia. Fresh from the defining win in Melbourne, which became the cynosure of the Border-Gavaskar series, five Indian players found themselves amid a potential bio-bubble breach with Cricket Australia and BCCI investigating into the matter. And then, reports emerged that the team has expressed reluctance over playing the final Test in Brisbane owing to stricter quarantine rules. They were further hit on Tuesday when KL Rahul was ruled out of the remainder of the contest with a wrist injury. While there has been no official word about the five players who have been placed in quarantine over the bubble breach, it is likely that India will have the remaining of the full squad to choose their XI for the Sydney Test which pertains to only two spots in the lineup - of that of Rohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
Where will Rohit Sharma bat?
Rohit's tryst with opening in Tests worked out perfectly for Team India in 2019 who managed to have solved their long-standing issue at the top of the order. Rohit scored 556 runs in six innings at 92.66 with two centuries and one double ton on home soil against South Africa and Bangladesh. But since November 2019, Rohit has been out of action from the format owing to injury concerns. The long absence and lack of match practice might have prompted head coach Ravi Shastri to opine that there was no guarantee of a spot for Rohit in the XI, despite the numbers. But his promotion as a vice-captain for the last two Tests of the series implies a definite spot for Rohit. But the question is where?
The popular demand has been the removal of Mayank Agarwal, who has shown technical flaws in his batting in the four innings he played in the series along with, in the practice games. In this scene, Rohit will open with Shubman Gill at the SCG.
Another popular opinion is going with Rohit at No.4 in a bid to ease his Test return, who last played an overseas Test in 2018, against Australia, scoring 106 runs in four innings. In this case, Hanuma Vihari might accompany Gill at the top. Vihari had last opened alongside Mayank Agarwal at the MCG in 2018 and looked composed against the cherry red in his combined 111-ball stay at the crease for which he was lauded by Virat Kohli, although his scores were 8 and 13.
Navdeep Saini or Shardul Thakur in Umesh Yadav's spot?
The last time when India played at the SCG, there were four primary bowlers in the lineup - two spinners and two pacers. But both Rahane and Shastri hinted that they would follow the five-bowler strategy in the subsequent Test, one that worked in their favour in their MCG win. But with Umhes Yadav ruled out, India will have to choose a pace option from the remaining available options - Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan.
Among the three, Shardul has the most first-class experience, although he has played only one Test for India where he bowled only 10 balls. He has played 62 matches with an average of 28.55 and strike rate of 54.1 against Saini's 46 at 28.5 with wickets every 59.9 balls and Natarajan's 20 at 27 with a strike rate of 53.6.
With not much to separate between the three barring the experience, it might come down to what SCG might aid. If conditions are overcast, Thakur, a fast-medium swing bowler, might be picked, who also has shown abilities with the bat down the order. If the pitch is flat, Saini will be the pick, who is more of a hit-the-deck bowler. Natarajan has shown tremendous rise in his career over a very short span and his left-arm option might tempt India into giving it a think.